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By Jason Sumner
Chris Carmichael admits he was stunned when Lance Armstrong first started talking about coming out of retirement to make a run at an eighth Tour de France title. But a few months after first hearing the news, America’s best-known cycling coach has embraced the idea of trying to help Armstrong retake the yellow jersey in Paris.
“It wasn’t like he just woke up and said I want to win the Tour,” explained Carmichael, founder and president of Carmichael Training Systems. “It was this slow rolling development. It started when he started Leadville training in the beginning of July. I remember this one ride, it was the San Jose Livestrong event. We were talking Leadville and he said, ‘What if we keep going after Leadville?’ I was like, ‘Well let me check the calendar. I know there is ultra event here or there.’ But he was like, ‘Well what if we go to the Tour.’ I was like, ‘You’re kidding.’ He was like, ‘Maybe, maybe not.’
Carmichael said he initially tried to talk him out of it, recalling the image of Greg LeMond’s career finish, when he quit mid-race and climbed into a team car.
“I said, ‘Man I don’t know if that’s a good idea’ and then followed up with an email,” Carmichael said. “I mean think about it. All the athletes who come back and it doesn’t work, and he won seven times and everybody remembers him winning. And then think of Greg LeMond getting in the car. Well Lance isn’t Greg but that shot sort of stamped his finish and wasn’t a great picture.”
But Armstrong was undeterred, his motivation only growing stronger as he watched Carlos Sastre win his first Tour title.
“He was talking more and more about it, watching the Tour and then the Olympics,” said Carmichael. “It was just coming alive.”
So now with the Lance 2.0 a reality, what comes next?
“This is not really the precise Lance Armstrong approach at this stage,” explained Carmichael, who was course side at Sunday’s 12 Hours of Snowmass race. “It’s been an emotional approach. We’ve done no testing or anything. There’s no power files yet. But we don’t need that right now. He’s in good shape. He’s fit. He’s been doing a lot of strength work. He had a good ride in Leadville, but just ran out of gas. And look at this race, it’s basically six 40-minute intervals that are all threshold and above. Still he’s three years out of elite competition and that’s the challenge.”
Indeed no one knows really knows what Armstrong’s chances are next year. It’s one thing to beat up on mid-level pro mountain bikers, another to do battle with the world’s best road racers, many of whom are a decade or more his younger.
“I don’t think anyone really knows what will happen,” conceded Carmichael. “Those three years out of racing were an anomaly for him. He’s been an elite athlete basically his whole life, so those three years were not the norm. But it will take some time to come back. He’ll do some testing in a few weeks in Colorado Springs and then will do some wind tunnel testing in San Diego. But it’s not a calculating approach yet, so it’s hard to say at this point.”
Still, like the rest of the cycling world, Carmichael is excited to find out what happens.
“Obviously it’s good for the sport,” he said. “And I definitely wouldn’t bet against him.”