By Lennard Zinn
When Lance Armstrong rolled away on L’Alpe d’Huez and gained time on his rivals in large gobs, he spun his 39-23 and 39-21 at around 90 RPM. Anyone watching that could see that it is unique in the history of cycling for someone to climb away from the greatest climbers in the world spinning 15-20 RPM faster than any of them as Lance did today as well as in the mountains in 1999 and 2000.
It is a simple fact that the 70-75 RPM cadence that Ullrich, Beloki and Moreau were doing behind Lance is completely standard. That’s just the way it has always been done. We watched Ullrich pedal the same way he did today, pedaling smoothly in the saddle up L’Alpe d’Huez in 1997 to finish third (while Richard Virenque, who had gotten away earlier, finished the stage standing constantly, placing second to Marco Pantani ). The difference was that we were in awe of the German that day, watching him trounce all but two of his rivals.
Armstrong’s personal training guru, Chris Carmichael, has worked with the Texan phenom for years on his pedaling style. Over here watching his prodigy put the hurts to the others once again, Carmichael told us, “A big guy like Ullrich probably needs to use a bigger gear, since he has bigger muscles. It’s very individual. For Lance, the higher cadence works because he has an efficient pedal stroke and it allows him to go as fast while his watts per pedal stroke are lower. On the flip side, it takes better aerobic conditioning to pedal at higher cadence. And you have to train a lot at high cadence to develop efficiency. Most people are more efficient at 80rpm than they are at 90rpm.”
Armstrong works constantly on that pedaling efficiency. Watching his feet swing so elegantly through each stroke, ankling from flat to toe-down and back 90 times per minute, is like watching an artist in action. This season, he has also added in an hour or so of daily stretching as part of his preparation. He remarked the other day about this new regimen of his, “Longer muscles are stronger muscles.” They are also more supple muscles that allow fluid leg motion at high rotational speed.
Lance is legendary for developing his aerobic fitness beyond anything any cyclist has perhaps ever done before. It allows him to spin away from very strong men like they are children. All of that hard work seems to be paying off. The day-long breakaway man, Laurent Roux of Jean Delatour, remarked afterward, “When he passed me, I had the impression that it was a motorcycle at my side. It was beautiful to see.” Yes, it was.