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Chris Carmichael Diary: A predator on the loose

Superior fitness makes a rider more versatile, and Lance Armstrong proved that by winning his third stage in as many days. Including the team time trial, Lance has won five stages of the 2004 Tour de France and he’s won them by being a complete athlete. Some riders are pure climbers, while others see the time trials as their best chance of winning a stage. When you are remarkably fit, however, you can excel in almost any racing situation and find a way to win on top of mountains, in time trials, uphill sprints and flat sprints. Extreme fitness provides benefits beyond power and endurance.

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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Superior fitness makes a rider more versatile, and Lance Armstrong proved that by winning his third stage in as many days. Including the team time trial, Lance has won five stages of the 2004 Tour de France and he’s won them by being a complete athlete.

Some riders are pure climbers, while others see the time trials as their best chance of winning a stage. When you are remarkably fit, however, you can excel in almost any racing situation and find a way to win on top of mountains, in time trials, uphill sprints and flat sprints.

Extreme fitness provides benefits beyond power and endurance. When you’re struggling to keep up or riding at the edge of your abilities, you’re focuses on the effort and doing everything you can to maintain it. On the other hand, when you’re fitness is at its best, it frees your mind and allows you to concentrate more fully on tactics, strategy, and finding a way to get to the finish line first.

You see this in all levels of racing. One of the biggest differences between the racers at the front of your local criteriums and the riders just hanging on in the field is that the stronger riders are thinking about racing while the weaker ones are thinking about surviving. When you see a rider suddenly go from finishing mid-pack to competing for top-five placings, it’s often not because he or she gained a tremendous amount of power, but because they gained just enough to be able to concentrate on winning instead of finishing.

At the summit of the final category 1 climb in the 2004 Tour de France, with a 13-kilometer descent to the finish, Armstrong told Floyd Landis to go for the stage victory he’s earned through his hard work for the U.S. Postal Service team. When Floyd’s incredible descending skills weren’t enough to get away from Jan Ullrich, Andreas Klöden, and Ivan Basso, Armstrong took the reins and looked for the opportunity to win the stage.

Klöden’s attack inside the final kilometer looked like it was going to work, and the stage win would have moved him within one minute of Basso in the general classification. When the German started slowing in the final 300 meters, Armstrong believed he had enough room left to outsprint him for the stage win and he did.

He didn’t win for the time bonus or to help Basso retain his time margin over Klöden; he won because he’s a predator and he saw the opportunity to go in for the kill.