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By Chris Carmichael
Green Bay Packer fans smile broadly whenever the snow starts falling during home football games. Their team thrives in those conditions because it’s the environment in which they live and train, but they suffer in the heat during away games in Phoenix, Arizona. Likewise, individual cyclists thrive in different conditions, and the weather can significantly influence their chances of winning.
Thus far in the 2004 Tour de France, the weather has been unseasonably cold and rainy. Perhaps not coincidentally, we’ve seen riders from the colder regions of Europe winning stages. Norwegian Thor Hushovd has won two stages and worn the yellow jersey, and Belgian Tom Boonen won the first stage of his career. Robbie McEwen may be from Australia, but he’s been living in the cold and wet of Belgium for a long time. Even the veteran Estonian sprinter, Jaan Kirsipu won a stage.
At the other end of the spectrum, some of the Italian riders have suffered in the cold. Super-sprinters, Alessandro Petacchi and Mario Cipollini couldn’t find the front of the field in the early stages, and later abandoned the race due to crashes. Gilberto Simoni tends to ride better in good weather, and so far the crashes and the weather have nearly led him to quit the race.
To be a contender for overall victory at the Tour, you have to be able to perform well in all conditions. That said, Jan Ullrich is much happier racing in the heat than in the cold, and he tends to perform better as temperatures climb. Tyler Hamilton has shown the ability to race at his best in everything from cold rain to blistering heat. As for Lance Armstrong, it seems the type of weather is less important than the severity of the conditions. The more difficult the weather conditions make the race, the more he seems to thrive. The notable exception to that rule occurred last year when prolonged exposure to extreme heat through the Dauphine Libere and Tour de France led to state of chronic dehydration. This year, dehydration hasn’t been an issue and he’s ready to exploit any opportunities the weather or his competitors reveal.
As the Tour de France heads south to the Pyrenees, it’s likely to get very hot very quickly. While the sun and heat will be welcomed by many in the peloton, a rapid shift in conditions can be worse than consistently dealing with either heat or cold. Riders sometimes overheat because their bodies struggle to keep their core temperatures normal when the temperatures suddenly increase. The weather forecast calls for a few more days of cool temperatures and rain, but it seems that the sun is always blazing by the time the Tour hits the Pyrenees. Then again, the weather is just as unpredictable as the Tour de France.
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.