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By Chris Carmichael
After a major fall in the final kilometer of yesterday’s stage, the peloton may have finally worked out their nervousness. In place of the crashes, speed and organization were the order of the day. Even a period of rain and heavy crosswinds didn’t wreak havoc with the field, despite the CSC team’s best efforts.
Bjarne Riis’ CSC team suffered a few setbacks in the first week of the 2004 Tour de France, including flat tires and several crashes in the Stage 4 team time trial, so it’s not surprising they took the race into their hands when the rain started falling and the peloton turned into a crosswind.
By going to the front and driving the pace, CSC split the field into two main groups. All things considered, their display of strength made the race safer for everyone. Splitting the group in two and keeping both groups strung out in long lines reduces the chances of crashes. With the number of bandages visible in the peloton, the entire bunch benefited when CSC took over control of the race.
Of course, safety wasn’t the CSC team’s only motive for driving the pace. They’re hunting for stage wins and they saw the crosswind as an opportunity to take half the field out of contention. They accomplished the first part of their goal when the field split, but since all the major yellow jersey contenders were present in the lead group, none of their teams had a reason to contribute to the pacemaking.
The peloton came back together after a reasonably short chase, but there was one more great opportunity to spoil the day for the sprinters. The final climb of the day was within ten kilometers of the finish line, and it was just difficult enough to serve as a launching pad for a last-minute breakaway. After all their work earlier in the day, CSC missed out on the winning move and Filippo Pozzato of the Fassa Bortolo team sprinted to his first stage victory. At the Tour de France, as at any other race, you have to be willing to take risks in order to win. CSC played their card in the crosswind and it didn’t work, but that’s more impressive than several other stage-hunting teams that didn’t play any card at all.
Chris Carmichael is Lance Armstrong’s coach and author of “Chris Carmichael’s Food For Fitness: Eat Right to Train Right” (available July 2004)
© 2004, Carmichael Training Systems, Inc.