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The coach’s perspective: An ace up your sleeve

Richard Virenque’s return to the Tour de France had gone relatively quietly until Stage 14. Up to this point he had ridden well and was consistently near the front of the race, but he had not shown his aggressive racing style of years past. He changed all that today by attacking the peloton 19 kilometers into a 221-kilometer stage. Fortunately the group with Virenque was committed to the breakaway and was big enough to afford everyone some rest time between pulls. The gap to the peloton grew to over 12 minutes, and was down to about 8 at the base of the Mont Ventoux. Virenque conjured up

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By Chris Carmichael

Richard Virenque’s return to the Tour de France had gone relatively quietly until Stage 14. Up to this point he had ridden well and was consistently near the front of the race, but he had not shown his aggressive racing style of years past. He changed all that today by attacking the peloton 19 kilometers into a 221-kilometer stage.

Fortunately the group with Virenque was committed to the breakaway and was big enough to afford everyone some rest time between pulls. The gap to the peloton grew to over 12 minutes, and was down to about 8 at the base of the Mont Ventoux. Virenque conjured up some of his old climbing prowess and held a steady pace all the way to the top.

The GC contenders were rapidly consuming the distance between themselves and his rear wheel, but he held on to take his first victory on one of the most prestigious finish lines in the cycling.

Patience was the chosen tactic for the day. Lance and Johan Bruyneel wanted to wait and see what the other teams and riders were going to do before showing their cards. The first day in the mountains, Lance said he didn’t feel he was climbing at 100-percent. His legs have since come around, and he is back to being right where he wants to be.

When Lance says his legs are good, it is like having four aces up your sleeve. The waiting game paid off when the attacks started coming from the ONCE team. Today was the first time they really tried to attack the yellow jersey, and Lance decided to answer their aggression with one well-timed counter attack.

Lance attacked with his typical high-cadence climbing style. On consistently steep climbs like Mont Ventoux, his climbing style gives him a clear advantage. There are no places on the Ventoux to recover because the pitch never levels out.

Once a rider’s legs load with lactic acid, any chance of delivering maximal power is gone. Maintaining a high cadence reduces the strain on leg muscles because the force exerted per pedal stroke decreases as cadence increases.

Lance has to do the same amount of work to reach the summit of Ventoux, regardless of whether he pedals at 70rpm or 95. Pedaling faster breaks the work into smaller pieces, allowing him to perform that work faster.

If you can do the same amount of work more quickly, you are putting out more power. More importantly, by reducing the strain on his leg muscles, Lance can maintain a higher power output for a longer period of time. Everybody fades during a 22-kilometer, 5000+ foot climb, but the man who fades the least covers the distance fastest.

High-cadence climbing carries with it a high aerobic cost. Lance is effectively shifting the stress of climbing from his muscles to his aerobic system. This means a highly-trained aerobic system is absolutely essential to successfully executing a high-cadence climbing style.

Lance spends a huge amount of his training time developing his capacity for aerobic work. He can do more work than other riders before reaching lactate threshold, which means he has more fuel left when he does reach and exceed lactate threshold.

Lance goes into the second rest day of the 2002 Tour de France with a 4:21 lead over second-placed Joseba Beloki. There are three hard days in the Alps following the rest day, the hardest of which being the stage to La Plagne. Lance is in the position he wanted to be by this point in the Tour, but he knows the race is far from over. Next week will be the hardest third week of any Tour de France in recent memory.