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Coach Carmichael: Great risks, great benefits

You have to be willing to take risks if you want to achieve anything in cycling, or in life. It’s now clear that Tyler Hamilton was not content to languish in seventh place, 9:02 out of the lead, in the 2003 Tour de France. He proved that when he took the race into his own hands during Stage 16 in an effort to get a stage win and move up in the overall classification. On paper, Hamilton’s attack should have been doomed to failure. While he was not a threat to either Lance Armstrong or Jan Ullrich, it would have been hard to imagine that the Euskaltel Euskadi team would let a great time

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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems

You have to be willing to take risks if you want to achieve anything in cycling, or in life.

It’s now clear that Tyler Hamilton was not content to languish in seventh place, 9:02 out of the lead, in the 2003 Tour de France. He proved that when he took the race into his own hands during Stage 16 in an effort to get a stage win and move up in the overall classification.

On paper, Hamilton’s attack should have been doomed to failure. While he was not a threat to either Lance Armstrong or Jan Ullrich, it would have been hard to imagine that the Euskaltel Euskadi team would let a great time trial rider like Hamilton ride away and gain time on their top men in the general classification, Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia.

Although the odds were against him, Hamilton attacked anyway; and try as they might, the men from Euskaltel Euskadi and Telekom couldn’t catch him. Arriving at the finish line 1:55 ahead of the field, Hamilton’s risky move had paid off. When you add in the bonus seconds for winning two intermediate sprints and the stage, Hamilton gained 2:27, moved into fifth place overall, and now sits within 1:20 of both Mayo and Zubeldia.

With the final individual time trial just a few days away, Hamilton stands to move even further up the leader board. Over 49 kilometers, he should be able to take more than the 1:20 he needs to move into fourth place overall. He even stands a chance of overtaking Alexander Vinokorouv, now 3:50 ahead of him, for the third step of the Tour de France podium. Taking 3:50 out of Vinokorouv will be very difficult if the Telekom rider is has a decent ride, but as we’ve seen so far in this Tour, anything is possible.

Regardless of where Hamilton finishes in the overall standings, he accomplished a feat most riders only dream of: winning a stage of the Tour de France. By doing so, he became the sixth American to win a Tour stage, joining an exclusive club with Davis Phinney, Jeff Pierce, Greg LeMond, Andy Hampsten and, of course, Lance Armstrong.

What’s even more remarkable is that he accomplished this feat while suffering through the pain of racing with a fractured collarbone. If there were an MVP award for the Tour de France, there’s no doubt it should go to Tyler Hamilton.

For Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service, Stage 16 was a reasonably uneventful day. George Hincapie put in a great ride, leading the peloton up the Col Bargarguy, the final category 1 climb of the 2003 Tour and staying with Armstrong’s group all the way to the finish line. Hincapie came into the Tour lean and motivated, and in the weeks leading up to the race, his climbing performance in training was the best it’s ever been.

For the time being, the Postal Service’s only concerns are keeping Armstrong out of trouble and keeping an eye on Jan Ullrich. With two stages over flat and rolling terrain remaining before Saturday’s final time trial, Armstrong is relaxed, confident, and performing just as I anticipated he could. Armstrong knows there’s one more risk he has to take. He has to ride as hard as he can in Saturday’s individual time trial, to the point where he risks going over the edge and cracking, because he knows it’s the only way to reap the reward of winning his fifth Tour de France.