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The coach’s perspective: Staying strong

Michael Boogerd found the strength to flash that big toothy smile of his as he won the most difficult stage of the 2002 Tour de France. Moments later he looked like he was going to fall over. Boogerd has always been a very good all-around rider, able to win Classics and one-day races, small stages races and stages in three-week Tours. Today he claimed his first mountain stage in the Tour de France, and did you notice his teammate rode well too? Boogerd’s American teammate on Robobank, Levi Leipheimer is riding a very consistent Tour de France. He hasn’t ridden aggressively, instead he has

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By Chris Carmichael

Michael Boogerd found the strength to flash that big toothy smile of his as he won the most difficult stage of the 2002 Tour de France. Moments later he looked like he was going to fall over.

Boogerd has always been a very good all-around rider, able to win Classics and one-day races, small stages races and stages in three-week Tours. Today he claimed his first mountain stage in the Tour de France, and did you notice his teammate rode well too?

Boogerd’s American teammate on Robobank, Levi Leipheimer is riding a very consistent Tour de France. He hasn’t ridden aggressively, instead he has used his strength carefully and that strategy is paying off this week.

In the Alpine stages so far, Levi has fared pretty well while others around him came undone. As a result, he has moved up to ninth overall in his first Tour de France. There is a chance Levi could move up from ninth, but to do so he needs to find a way to take about two minutes out of several riders. His chance of a top three finish is gone, but top five is possible if ONCE riders Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and Jose Azevedo lose two minutes to the Rabobank team leader.

The fact that Levi is performing as well as he is overall in the final week of the Tour means he prepared well for this race. Riders tend to crack badly in the final week of the Tour de France because they did not arrive at the start with the fitness to withstand three weeks of pressure. It appears Levi started the Tour in peak condition and that has enabled him to absorb the stress of the race without losing his strength or power.

To be successful in a three-week stage race, you have to have to be able to maintain peak fitness from beginning to end. Most riders have a maximum length of time they can hold on to peak conditioning. For Lance Armstrong, years of training have increased his window of opportunity to about 7 weeks.

He can maintain the fitness, the body weight, the immune system health, and the mental focus to compete at his best for seven weeks. Beyond that, things begin to break down. He gets run down and his mood and motivation suffer. Knowing this, we aim for his seven-week window of peak conditioning to begin two-three weeks prior to the Tour de France. We want the Tour to fall in the middle of this period, not at the beginning or end, just for safety’s sake.

Seven weeks is a long time for an athlete to stay at peak fitness, most should only shoot for about 4 weeks. Lance is a special case, as everyone knows, and he has also worked hard over the years. Cumulative years of training increases the amount of time an athlete can hold on to peak fitness, and it also heightens the level of peak fitness that athlete can reach. That’s why I say that Lance’s Tour de France training began back in 1990 when he was just a brash, know-it-all teenager.