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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems
Lance Armstrong never stops learning, and the 2003 Tour de France taught him what it’s like to struggle. He’d battled back from cancer and adversity before, but hadn’t struggled like that during any of his four prior Tour wins.
Last year, Armstrong never really had full control of the race, was vulnerable to attack and on the edge of losing the yellow jersey every day. Coming back to the Tour in 2004 was never a question, and from the moment he started training, he focused on regaining an undisputed position as the strongest man in the Tour de France.
The tests we did with Lance in the week prior to the prologue confirmed he was in absolutely great shape. He was healthy, his weight was where it needed to be, his maximum sustainable power was very high and, above all, he was well rested.
Looking at all the markers of performance together, he’d never been more completely prepared. Taking a broader look by including the condition of his eight teammates, there wasn’t a stronger or better-prepared team in all of cycling today. Sitting in the team bus in Liege, it was clear only disaster on the road could stop Lance from winning the 2004 Tour de France.
Lance did not enjoy winning the Tour de France by just 61 seconds in 2003. He was too close to losing and the pressure was immense. What’s more, he had opened the door and given his rivals a tantalizing peek at the yellow jersey. It was important to him to be stronger at every critical moment this year so he never gave any of his rivals confirmation they could seriously challenge him.
The collective strength of the U.S. Postal Service team played a huge role in dismantling the opposition. In the first week, the team flexed its muscles over the cobblestones and in the team time trial. As soon as the race hit the mountains, the pace set by Lance’s teammates decimated the field.
Of all the men we predicted to challenge Armstrong, Ivan Basso was the only one who could keep up. Some race fans said the Tour de France was boring this year because no one attacked in the mountains. Looking at it from my side of the fence, it was exciting to watch Lance and his team exert such dominating control over the best cyclists in the world.
With the manner in which he won his sixth Tour de France, Armstrong exorcised all of his demons from 2003. He removed any doubt he or anyone else might have had about his ability to still compete at his absolute best. Winning the yellow jersey for a record-breaking sixth time was important, but for Lance it was more important to win the 2004 Tour de France the way he wanted to, on his terms.