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Coach Carmichael: Prologue’s short, but important

Even though I’ve been to the Tour de France many times over the years, there’s more excitement around the start this year than ever before. The 100th anniversary of the Tour, with the prologue in Paris, is bringing cycling fans and the sport’s past luminaries out in droves. For Lance Armstrong, however, it is important to stay focused on the task at hand: starting the 2003 Tour de France with a powerful statement of his intention to win again. On the first day of the Tour, riders only race for 6.5km, but they are among the most important kilometers in the entire race. The prologue is the

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A good performance is a good predictor of form

By Chris Carmichael

Even though I’ve been to the Tour de France many times over the years, there’s more excitement around the start this year than ever before. The 100th anniversary of the Tour, with the prologue in Paris, is bringing cycling fans and the sport’s past luminaries out in droves. For Lance Armstrong, however, it is important to stay focused on the task at hand: starting the 2003 Tour de France with a powerful statement of his intention to win again.

On the first day of the Tour, riders only race for 6.5km, but they are among the most important kilometers in the entire race. The prologue is the only time when everyone starts with an equal chance of wearing the yellow jersey by day’s end. Obviously, some riders are better suited to the event, and the strongest will always ride faster than the weaker, but at least on paper, all 198 starters roll out of the start house with a shot at wearing yellow.

For the men touted as contenders for overall victory, a good performance in the prologue is a sign that you have arrived at the Tour in good form, and with legitimate intentions to challenge for victory. When you are a favorite in the Tour de France, winning the prologue is also a sign that you are ready and capable of racing aggressively from the beginning to the end of the three-week race.

While the prologue is only 6.5km and should take only seven-and-half- to eight-and-a-half minutes, preparing for it takes hours. Lance’s day will start with breakfast and a 50-mile, moderate-pace ride. This morning ride is not meant to be a warm-up for the prologue. Rather, the purpose is just to get Lance on the bike and get his legs and blood moving. There will be a few short efforts in the ride to help him loosen up, but nothing too strenuous. Morning rides are something I recommend to any athlete who is planning on competing in the late afternoon or evening. You’ll notice your race warm-up goes a little more smoothly after riding 30-60 minutes in the morning.

After returning from his ride, Lance will stretch and have lunch. It is important that he has enough fuel for a good, long warm-up and a strong ride in the prologue, but he won’t eat too much. The intensity of a prologue is so high, and the ride is so short, that it is important not to feel bloated or overly full. For the time between lunch and the event, Lance will consume snacks prepared for him by his soigneur, carbohydrate drinks, and plenty of water.

Lance’s warm-up for the prologue lasts about an hour and takes place on a trainer next to the Postal Service team vehicles. A proper warmup should gradually increase from aerobic intensity to lactate threshold, and then include periods above threshold and maximum efforts. To be successful in events where you need maximum power from the first pedal stroke to the last, such as time trials and criteriums, you need to activate the lactate production, tolerance, and clearance processes in your body. This is accomplished in the middle portion of the routine, the part when Lance is alternating between periods at and above lactate threshold.

Five to 10 minutes before his scheduled start, Lance gets off the trainer and heads to the start house. He arrives with plenty of time to gather his thoughts and focus on the task ahead. He also has plenty of time in case something happens between the USPS area and the start house. Missing your start time is an unacceptable blunder at any level of the sport, but missing your start time at the Tour de France can cost you the whole race. Remember Pedro Delgado in 1989? He was the defending champion and lost 2:40 before the race even began because he was late to the prologue. He eventually wound up third overall.

Lance Armstrong does not play any strategic games in the prologue. When you have the opportunity to seize the Tour de France leader’s jersey, you have to honor the race by giving everything you have in an effort to obtain it. Lance understands that, as does everyone else scheduled to start the 2003 Tour de France.

Happy Fourth of July.