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Chris Carmichael Diary: Postal power

Five stage wins - six if you include the team time trial - and a 6:38 lead going into the final day; Lance Armstrong and his team have dominated the 2004 Tour de France to a greater degree than ever before. Stage 19 showcased the collective strength of the U.S. Postal Service team yet again, with four riders in the top ten and another two in the top twenty. Of the day’s great performances, those from Floyd Landis and George Hincapie stand out. After shattering the lead groups on climbs while setting pace for Armstrong, Landis had the power left to finish fourth in today’s 55-kilometer time

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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems

Five stage wins – six if you include the team time trial – and a 6:38 lead going into the final day; Lance Armstrong and his team have dominated the 2004 Tour de France to a greater degree than ever before.

Stage 19 showcased the collective strength of the U.S. Postal Service team yet again, with four riders in the top ten and another two in the top twenty. Of the day’s great performances, those from Floyd Landis and George Hincapie stand out. After shattering the lead groups on climbs while setting pace for Armstrong, Landis had the power left to finish fourth in today’s 55-kilometer time trial. Finishing just outside the top ten on the stage, Hincapie beat the top general classification riders from all but four of the 21 teams in the Tour de France, including all of the men who will finish sixth through tenth overall in the Tour tomorrow.

Leading the U.S. Postal charge today and throughout the Tour de France was Lance Armstrong. The 55-kilometer test was a big challenge, one we prepared for specifically. We looked at the route closely last fall and knew it was a rolling course, as well as the longest individual time trial Armstrong would do all year.

We knew the approximate power output Lance would have to produce in order to win the stage; and it wasn’t the output itself that caused concern, but rather the length of time he would have to sustain it. Figuring the stage would be won in around 65 minutes, plus or minus a few, I wanted to avoid the situation Lance was in during the 58.5-kilometer Fribourg time trial in 2000. Even though he rode a blistering pace, he faded significantly in the final ten kilometers and lost some of the time he’d gained earlier in the stage.

After spending a lot of time working on his aerobic system and strength with workouts below lactate threshold, Lance started doing specific workouts targeted at the Stage 19 time trial. Rather than begin by doing long efforts at power outputs below what was necessary for winning the stage, Lance did shorter workouts but always maintained the high power we thought would win the race. Over a period of weeks and months, the length of time Lance could sustain race-winning power increased, until in the weeks prior to the Tour de France, he was able to maintain high time trial power for nearly an hour. Knowing his fitness would continue to grow through the Tour, the tests we performed prior to the Prologue confirmed he was as ready for the race as I’d ever seen him.

During today’s stage Armstrong led at every checkpoint, and he reached the finish line with the largest time gap he’d had at any point during the time trial. Unlike 2000, where his lead went from nearly one minute to just 25 seconds over the final 10 kilometers of the course, Armstrong gained time throughout the length of the course today and nearly caught the man who started three minutes ahead of him.

Tomorrow will be a showcase for the sprinters, as the green jersey is the only competition still up for grabs. For the men in the top ten in the general classification, Stage 20 should just be a day to stay out of trouble and cruise into Paris. The only team that could disrupt the order of the day would be CSC, even though their chances of reclaiming the 22 seconds Ivan Basso needs to move back into second overall are pretty slim.