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Chris Carmichael Diary: Longest Day Reaps Tiny Gain

It has been said that wearing the yellow jersey can give a rider an extra gear, and Thomas Voeckler is definitely taking advantage of it. Instead of being satisfied with merely finishing with the lead group and preserving his overall lead, the young French champion sprinted to fifth place in Stage 10, because that’s how the leader of the Tour de France should race. Right beside Voeckler in the rush to the line was Lance Armstrong, and his decision to stay at the front in the final 850 meters gained him another seven seconds over Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras, Levi Leipheimer, and Bobby

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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems

It has been said that wearing the yellow jersey can give a rider an extra gear, and Thomas Voeckler is definitely taking advantage of it. Instead of being satisfied with merely finishing with the lead group and preserving his overall lead, the young French champion sprinted to fifth place in Stage 10, because that’s how the leader of the Tour de France should race.

Right beside Voeckler in the rush to the line was Lance Armstrong, and his decision to stay at the front in the final 850 meters gained him another seven seconds over Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras, Levi Leipheimer, and Bobby Julich. Jan Ullrich, Armstrong, and Iban Mayo managed to finish ahead of a small split in the group, and though the seven seconds they gained on Hamilton and Heras is almost inconsequential, it’s another example of how easy it is to lose time in the Tour de France.

A small split in the leading group was about as much as any of the pre-race favorites could hope for during Stage 10. The final 30 kilometers of the stage gradually rolled downhill to the town of Saint-Flour and though the final 850 meters were uphill, the climb wasn’t very steep and they arrived at its base in a group of 72 men. Even if one of the pre-race favorites were to have launched an attack in the run-in to the finish, it would have taken a monumental effort to hold the gap all the way to the finish line. All of the contenders’ teams were well represented in the lead peloton and would have chased immediately.

Even attacking on the final climb wouldn’t have been worth the effort. Attacking uphill costs a great deal of energy, and it’s only worthwhile when you have a chance to reap a big benefit. On a gradual climb that only lasts 850 meters, you’re not going to gain much more than ten seconds on your rivals, yet the act of launching the attack would require you to dig into your energy reserves. If you think of attacks as matches, you start a race with a finite number and when they’re all burned up, you’re done. You have to be careful about when you choose to burn one of those matches, and it’s best to conserve them for attacks that can gain you minutes instead of seconds.

Armstrong, Ullrich, and Mayo benefited from the small time split at the finish, and we’ve been hearing for over a week that the riders trailing Lance Armstrong in the overall standings aren’t concerned about the relatively small time deficits they currently have. Everyone is assuming the magnitude of the time gaps that will open in the high mountain stage will more than wipe out any current differences in time. While they may be right, Lance Armstrong is in the enviable position of being the one slightly ahead of the rest. There’s a lot of racing left to be done, and the hardest challenges are yet to come, but at least Armstrong doesn’t have the added pressure of regaining lost time.