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By Chris Carmichael
I don’t know that you could have scripted a better scenario for the opening day of the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong had a very good day, put a little daylight between himself and his main rivals, but was beaten by a young man from Switzerland riding his first Tour de France. He delivered the message that he’s prepared for a hard three weeks, but he and the Postal Service don’t have to work to defend the yellow jersey tomorrow. One good day down, 22 to go.
A strong prologue performance by a team leader is important in a long stage race. It has a significant psychological effect on the rider and his teammates, and it gives the opposition something to think about. The last several days have gone very well for Lance, and his teammates and support staff were quick to pick up on it. When I arrived in Liege on Friday, it was immediately apparent there was a different atmosphere around the team. Last year’s tension had given way to a more comfortable, relaxed environment.
The source of the change was easy to spot and even easier to understand. Lance is in great shape and he’s confident about his fitness and the abilities of his teammates. As great leaders do, he radiates confidence that rallies the people around him to greater performances. We all knew the USPS Tour squad was strong, but I’m not sure anyone expected four guys in the top 20 and such strong performances from the climbers.
While Lance used some of the new technologies developed over the winter, including new aero bars and a new Giro helmet, he didn’t use the cooling vest Nike developed because, well, the weather didn’t make it necessary. With overcast skies, temperatures in the low to mid 60s, and a brisk wind, the conditions were a far cry from the heat of 2003. The vest, which may come in handy later in the Tour, is designed to keep a rider cooler as he warms up for an event like an individual time trial. Preventing core temperature from rising too high reduces the work the body has to do to cool itself, and helps prevent hydration issues. Heat may not have been a factor today, but it’s good to know we have an effective tool for dealing with it when it is.
Overall, the most striking thing you notice upon arrival into the USPS camp is how completely prepared everyone is. People are busy, but not harried or frantic. The team and the support staff are organized, calm and efficient. Having done this successfully for five years already, everyone knows exactly what his or her job is and things are done right, the first time. It’s hard to overstate how important solid organization is to the success of the team and Lance’s chances of winning the yellow jersey. It allows the riders to focus completely on performing and recovering instead of worrying about bags, hotels, food, massages or equipment. As a coach or a manager, you want all your riders’ energy focused on the race, nothing else.
Lance’s focus on the 2004 Tour de France has been unwavering for months and it showed in the effort he put forth today. The next 22 days are going to be tough, but from what I’ve seen over the past few days and weeks, Lance is going to be tough to beat.
Chris Carmichael is Lance Armstrong’s personal coach, Founder and President of Carmichael Training Systems, Inc., and author of “Chris Carmichael’s Food For Fitness: Eat Right to Train Right” (July 2004).
©2004, Carmichael Training Systems, Inc.