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Coach Carmichael: Up, up and away

Lance Armstrong is happy with the way the first week of the Tour de France has gone: A victory in the team time trial and Victor Hugo Peña’s days in the yellow jersey. He is also excited to reach the mountains, as he knows the 2003 Tour de France will be decided on the slopes of the Alps and Pyrénées. Stage 7 will be the first opportunity to see how well the main contenders for the yellow jersey are climbing this year. Lance’s performance in the Dauphine Libéré provided confidence in his climbing form, and he is stronger now than he was then. Jan Ullrich’s abilities in the high mountains

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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems

Lance Armstrong is happy with the way the first week of the Tour de France has gone: A victory in the team time trial and Victor Hugo Peña’s days in the yellow jersey. He is also excited to reach the mountains, as he knows the 2003 Tour de France will be decided on the slopes of the Alps and Pyrénées.

Stage 7 will be the first opportunity to see how well the main contenders for the yellow jersey are climbing this year. Lance’s performance in the Dauphine Libéré provided confidence in his climbing form, and he is stronger now than he was then.

Jan Ullrich’s abilities in the high mountains are more of a mystery. He looks fresh, lean, and in great shape, but he hasn’t competed in big mountain stages for quite two years now.

There is no doubt the racing will be aggressive in the Alps. The yellow jersey is completely up for grabs tomorrow and riders would rather defend it than chase after it. Armstrong, Ullrich, and Joseba Beloki will watch each other closely tomorrow, looking for weakness and the right moment to launch a decisive attack.

Descending skills will be as important as climbing power in the first mountain stage. The Col de la Ramaz is the final major climb of the day, but it is followed by a steep descent, another short climb, and then a final drop to the finish. Even if a rider is dropped on the Ramaz, he may be able to make it back to the lead group by the finish. Working to prevent a rider from rejoining would take a lot of effort, and may not be totally worth the energy cost. Saving that energy for a devastating attack on Sunday’s summit finish to Alp d’Huez might net a rider more bang for his buck.

I expect to see a very aggressive stage on Saturday, and by the end of the stage we will know which riders have a real chance of challenging for the yellow jersey. At the same time, the end of the stage is more suited to a breakaway from a non-threatening climber or a sprint from a small group of Tour contenders. The real time gaps are more likely to open on Sunday.