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By Thomas Prehn
Sometimes the riders dictate the tactics on the course; other times, the course decides the tactics. In today’s 197km stage from Castelsarrasin to La Mongie, the peloton headed into the Pyrénées, racing over the Col d’Aspin and finishing with the famous Col du Tourmalet. It was the first real test of fitness, a race of man against man, and man against gravity.
The peloton rolled along until it approached the fury of a rainstorm and the looming mountains ahead. Little attacks here and there meant nothing in what everyone knew would be a decisive stage, a day on which the field would shatter, with dreams fading for some while glory bloomed for others.
On such a day, there is little room for individual or team tactics. The strongest rider will, without much doubt, be victorious. Still, there was one great bit of team tactics that did play out today.
On the final climb, as the lead group was shattering, with riders like Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) shooting off the back, U.S. Postal’s José Azevedo sacrificed himself for his team captain, Lance Armstrong. Azevedo went to the front of the lead group and set a blistering pace that burned off alleged contender after contender. Just behind sat Armstrong, keeping pace. Despite little attacks on the steep pitches from riders like Carlos Sastre (CSC), Azevedo kept a steady tempo, steadily reeling them back in.
This superb teamwork paid off. As the Portuguese climber kept up the pace, the time split between Armstrong and the chasers broadened. Finally, with nothing left in his legs, the faithful teammate turned it over to his captain.
With little real opportunity to act tactically, U.S. Postal nevertheless demonstrated how a top team works. His job for the day done at last, Azevedo faded backward, eventually finishing 21st at two and a half minutes back. At the head of the race, meanwhile, Armstrong took up the final charge with less than 4.5km to go.
Thomas Prehn is a former USPRO champion and author of the recentlyreleased “RacingTactics for Cyclists,” now available through VeloPress. If you have questions about tactics employed during a particularstage at the Tour de France, send a note to WebLetters@InsideInc.comWe will try to answer a selection of questions on a regular basis duringthe Tour.