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The coach’s perspective: Looking to tomorrow

According to Lance Armstrong, there are actually 187 guys in the Tour de France, and two 800-pound gorillas. George Hincapie and Vjatcheslav Ekimov are accustomed to filling the roles of Lance’s favorite guardians. They’re not malicious in any way, but they are very good at making sure no harm comes Lance. Fortunately they are also very strong, because the U.S. Postal Service needs as much collective strength as possible for tomorrow’s team time trial. The Postal team is strong enough to have a chance at winning the team time trial. More importantly, Lance has the opportunity to gain time on

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By Chris Carmichael

According to Lance Armstrong, there are actually 187 guys in the Tour de France, and two 800-pound gorillas. George Hincapie and Vjatcheslav Ekimov are accustomed to filling the roles of Lance’s favorite guardians. They’re not malicious in any way, but they are very good at making sure no harm comes Lance. Fortunately they are also very strong, because the U.S. Postal Service needs as much collective strength as possible for tomorrow’s team time trial.

The Postal team is strong enough to have a chance at winning the team time trial. More importantly, Lance has the opportunity to gain time on some of his rivals, assuming everything goes well for his team. Last year a crash caused a slight delay during the rain-slicked team time trial, but the team minimized their losses by having a crisis plan in place ahead of time.

This year we started discussing that crisis plan all the way back in December at the team training camp in Austin. Johan Bruyneel is very well-versed in crisis management and we all agreed that in almost all cases it would be better to wait for crashed or flat-stricken teammates than to continue without them. This is especially true if a mishap occurs in the first 45 km of the stage.

The time cut does apply to the team time trial, and considering the high average speed of the winning team, a rider left behind could easily be eliminated from the Tour altogether. Every team member is important when you are trying to win the Tour de France, and losing a few minutes in the team time trial may be less detrimental than starting the next day with only eight riders.

Team time trials are harder than individual time trials. You do get to draft behind your teammates, but you don’t get to recover at all. The guy on the front is pulling at 600+ watts, and everyone behind is trying to hang on. Considering an energy savings of approximately 27 percent from being in the draft, riders in the pace line have to produce roughly 440+ watts. This can be very difficult for smaller riders, so they minimize the time they spend on the front. They pull through and keep the speed up, and then quickly get out of the way.

Pulling through during a team time trial means having to repeatedly spike your power production for nearly 70 kilometers. Motorpacing is the best way to simulate the power demands and fluctuations experienced in competition. Since most teams rarely practice the team time trial, the riders have to prepare themselves for the event independently. I like to have riders pace behind a motorbike at race speed and move out into the wind at regular intervals to simulate taking pulls.

The power file from that workout looks very similar to what you see during the team time trial. Before you start tailgating Harleys on your next training ride, remember that motorpacing is very dangerous. Christophe Moreau crashed hard while motorpacing at 75 kph a few weeks before the Tour.