Chris Carmichael

Schlecks inflict damage

2009-07-23 12:48
Chris Carmichael (File)
Chris Carmichael

When I rode the final two climbs of Stage 17 on Tuesday, the thought running through my mind was, "These mountains are going to change the whole race." The Col du Romme is very steep and difficult, and the descent between the Romme and the start of the Col du Colombiere is quite short. The combination of the Romme and the Colombiere is more like riding one 15km climb, because by the time you're a kilometre or so into the Colombiere, you've forgotten completely about the fact there was even a descent. It was the perfect place for Andy Schleck and his brother, Frank, to launch an assault on the yellow jersey, and they threw everything at Alberto Contador in Stage 17.

No matter what the Schlecks did, there was no getting rid of Contador. He responded to every acceleration and only looked to be under pressure right at the very top of the Colombiere. The only questionable move he made all day was his attack about 2km from the summit of the final climb. In retrospect, it may not have been the wisest move to make. True, there was a possible stage win and maybe some additional time to be had over Andy Schleck, but there was also considerable - and unnecessary - risk associated with his move.

The only thing Contador succeeded in doing was dropping his team-mate, Andreas Kloden. That left the Spaniard isolated, with two Saxo Bank team-mates - brothers no less - who are completely united in their goal to put Andy as high up as possible in the overall standings. The danger wasn't really that Contador would lose power in the final kilometres of the climb or lose contact with the Schlecks on the descent, but dropping Kloden increased the risk that Contador could lose time if he suffered a flat, a mechanical problem, or a crash. On mountain stages like Wednesday's, when the groups are split up all over the mountain, your team car could be minutes behind you. Neutral service mechanics are good, but they're almost always slower to get you back on the road than your own team mechanic. (Since they need to be ready to put a wheel on anyone's bike, the quick-release skewers often have to be adjusted pretty significantly to get the wheel on or fastened to the bike. Team mechanics have these adjustments made ahead of time.)

Behind the leading group of three, Kloden fought to keep his pace up over the final kilometre of the climb, and behind him Lance Armstrong accelerated away from Bradley Wiggins. Lance's attempt to go up to Kloden was a good move to help the German minimise his losses to the Schlecks, and it was a smart move for his own chances of finishing on the podium in Paris because Wiggins started the day only nine seconds behind Armstrong in the overall standings.

Armstrong rode a very good race. He wasn't able to go with the attack that put Contador, the two Schlecks and Kloden into the leading group on the road, but he successfully executed the role of the consummate team-mate. In the group he was in, Wiggins was the rider who had to take the responsibility of chasing. Lance had two team-mates up the road, including the man in the yellow jersey, so his only responsibility was to stay with Wiggins in case the British rider managed to catch up. The Garmin team did everything they could to get their man back into the yellow jersey group, and both Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde absolutely slaughtered themselves on the way up the Colombiere.

Lance waited until it was clear that Wiggins had worn himself out to the point that he wouldn't be able to go with the Astana rider when he accelerated. The Schlecks started the day with the goal of putting time into all their rivals, and so did the Astana boys. Gaining time over Wiggins was a significant goal - for both Kloden and Armstrong - in advance of Thursday's individual time trial. And when Lance accelerated, Wiggins couldn't respond and he didn't have any team-mates around to help him. Had Lance gone earlier, Wiggins may have been able to stay on his wheel, or gotten help from Vande Velde pretty rapidly and chased him down. As he did on Tuesday, Lance executed one well-timed hard effort to gain time over rivals who threaten his position in the overall standings.

Overall, however, Lance went from second to fourth, behind Contador and now both Schleck brothers. Neither Saxo Bank rider is known for his time-trial abilities, and Frank is only 30 seconds ahead of Lance going into Thursday's 40km time trial. There's a good chance Lance will be able to overtake Frank and move back up into third overall, and there's even a chance (not a big one, but a chance) Lance could take back the 1:29 deficit he now faces to Andy.

The amount of time Lance can take back on Andy and Frank Schleck has a lot do with how deep the two Saxo Bank riders dug in Stage 17. They burned a lot of energy riding very aggressively over the final two climbs of the day, and they may pay a price for those efforts on Thursday. Then again, Stage 17 was very difficult for everyone, so I don't think anyone's going to feel too fresh rolling off the starting ramp for Stage 18.

If I were to predict an outcome after the time trial, I would say that when all is said and done, Contador will be in yellow, Andy Schleck will be in second, with Armstrong third, Wiggins fourth, and Kloden fifth. The time gaps between the top riders in the time trial probably won't be that great. It's a relatively flat course and it's only 40km. If the time trial were longer, say by 10 to 15 kilometres, then Andy Schleck's position in front of Armstrong and Wiggins would be in much greater jeopardy. The stage will be long enough, however, for Armstrong and Wiggins to gain significant time on Andy Schleck, and put him in a position where his second place position is under serious threat on the climb to Mont Ventoux.


Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong's coach for 20 years and is the founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). Chris's newest book, "The Time Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week" has just been released and signed copies are available at There you can also get information on CTS' Create Your Own Comeback program, the free Do the Tour...Stay at Home(tm) training programme, and the free CTS Tour de France Newsletter. You should also follow Chris at


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