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Coach Carmichael: Prelude To A Serious Showdown

Winning the Tour de France requires a balance of patience and aggression, and on the first mountain stage today, Lance and U.S. Postal Service chose to remain patient. Armstrong wasn’t the only man waiting to show his true strength. His main rivals, Jan Ullrich and Joseba Beloki rode quietly today as well, but tomorrow each man will be forced to lay his cards on the table. Quickstep’s Richard Virenque was Stage Seven’s main aggressor, attacking early and gaining enough time and mountain points to take both the yellow and polka dot jerseys. Virenque wore the yellow jersey briefly eleven years

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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems

Winning the Tour de France requires a balance of patience and aggression, and on the first mountain stage today, Lance and U.S. Postal Service chose to remain patient. Armstrong wasn’t the only man waiting to show his true strength. His main rivals, Jan Ullrich and Joseba Beloki rode quietly today as well, but tomorrow each man will be forced to lay his cards on the table.

Quickstep’s Richard Virenque was Stage Seven’s main aggressor, attacking early and gaining enough time and mountain points to take both the yellow and polka dot jerseys. Virenque wore the yellow jersey briefly eleven years ago when he made his Tour de France debut in 1992, and I believe his tenure in yellow will again be short lived. With Ullrich, Armstrong, and Beloki battling for the yellow jersey on Alp d’Huez, his two and half minute lead will vanish quickly.

Stage 8 is one of the hardest stages of the 2003 Tour de France, and to make matters worse, the weather is supposed to be terribly hot again. Many riders have already had trouble because of the heat, and dehydration is likely to claim several more in the next few days. Paolo Bettini and David Millar bonked on the Col de la Ramaz, and the heat contributed to one Kelme rider’s collapse earlier in the stage.

It is critical that riders don’t get behind in hydration or nutrition on hot days because once you’re low on fluids it is very difficult to catch back up. Dehydration kicks off a debilitating cycle: loss of fluids decreases your power output, meaning you have to work even harder to keep up with the peloton. This puts you even further behind on fluid and calories, which continues to reduce your power, and so on. The results are very bad, and in the Tour it can take days to recover from bonking on one climb.

Whether the problem was the heat, dehydration, lack of food, or just lack of power, Telekom’s Santiago Botero and Saeco’s Gilberto Simoni suffered greatly on the first day in the mountains. They are both effectively out of the running for the yellow jersey after losing contact with the group containing Armstrong, Ullrich, and Beloki on the Ramaz climb.

More riders will fall out of contention for the yellow jersey by the conclusion of Stage 8 on Sunday. The climb to Alp d’Huez holds a mystical place in cycling history and Lance Armstrong wants to take the yellow jersey by repeating his 2001 victory on the mountain. Barring a breakaway from a non-contender, Ullrich is Lance’s most formidable challenge for the stage win. The two men will battle all the way to the finish, and we’ll finally get a chance to see how well the reborn German rider will climb under pressure.