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By Chris Carmichael
Though they are adversaries, Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, and Roberto Heras know there is a time and place to work together for their mutual benefit. When a crash prior to the first section of cobblestones split the field and isolated Iban Mayo, all the other team leaders sent their men to the front to make sure the Spaniard didn’t make it back to the front group. In doing so, they have changed the face of the 2004 Tour de France and significantly damaged Mayo’s chances of challenging for the yellow jersey.
While there was definitely a chance that Armstrong or Ullrich could have had trouble today, I was reasonably confident they would make it through the cobblestones unscathed. Both men have experience in harsh conditions and teammates capable of guiding them through dangerous situations. Riders like Hamilton and Heras should feel more fortunate to have avoided catastrophe today because the cobbles presented them a greater challenge. Hamilton has raced several and won one spring classic, so his skills on cobblestones were not in question. Rather, his small size and tendency to fall were his disadvantages. He and his team rode a smart and aggressive race today to keep him out of trouble and keep his podium aspirations alive.
Roberto Heras fell behind a little bit on the first section of cobbles, which was not unexpected. His team organized themselves quickly and rejoined the front group within five kilometers of returning to smooth pavement. Their efforts preserved Heras’ overall standing in the Tour de France as the riders head into tomorrow’s team time trial.
Looking at the current situation in the team classification, it appears that each of the overall contenders’ teams will have to ride the team time trial at full speed. USPS is leading the team competition and will have the benefit of starting last. However, T-Mobile, Phonak, and Liberty Seguros will be starting pretty close together and therefore won’t be able to tell definitively if anyone has enough time in hand at one of the time checks to allow the others to sit up. Euskaltel Euskadi is in last place in the team competition and will start first. With no information on how other yellow jersey favorites are doing, Mayo’s team may be forced to ride all-out in order to keep their leader within six minutes of Armstrong and the others.
A four-minute lead on Mayo is a good start, but it by no means puts him completely out of the running for the yellow jersey. The Spaniard is an explosive climber and he has the ability to pull back all the time he lost today in the course of a few well-timed attacks in the mountains. He may be wounded, but experienced leaders like Armstrong and Ullrich know better than to write him off yet.
Chris Carmichael is Lance Armstrong’s coach and author of “Chris Carmichael’s Food For Fitness: Eat Right to Train Right” (July 2004)
© 2004, Carmichael Training Systems, Inc.