Chris Carmichael

Astana makes a statement

2009-07-05 20:02
Chris Carmichael (File)
Chris Carmichael

While Lance Armstrong had a good ride in his return to the Tour de France, team-mates Alberto Contador and Andreas Kloden made the most noise in stage one.

You have to hand it to Alberto Contador, he's come a long way as an individual time trial rider and he showed both his power and his ambition with a great performance in Saturday's opening time trial at the 2009 Tour de France.

At the end of the day, after so much talking back and forth in the media about who would lead the Astana team, whether there's a rivalry within the team etc, it's up to the riders to make their loudest statements with their legs. Finishing second to Olympic time trial champion Fabian Cancellara and in front of every other yellow jersey contender is the best possible statement Contador could have made about his intentions and the quality of his preparation.

As a squad, the Astana riders were very impressive. Andreas Kloden, who a few years ago seemed poised to take over the mantle of Germany's Tour de France contender from Jan Ullrich, had a very strong ride to finish fourth. Levi Leipheimer started hours earlier and held the lead for a long time during the day before slotting into sixth. Both men finished within 12 seconds of Alberto Contador's time, and Kloden even finished in front of Silence-Lotto's leader, Cadel Evans.

Of course, there were a lot of people - including me - looking to see how Lance Armstrong would finish.

Tenth place wasn't bad, but it's interesting to note that in the seven Tours Lance won, he only finished outside the top three in a prologue or opening time trial once (in 2003 he finished seventh, and that was also the Tour he struggled in the most).

Lance started early in the day which could have been an advantage if the weather turned ugly later in the afternoon - something that turned out to be a non-issue. As it was, the conditions for Lance's ride weren't that different than for later riders, except that men like Evans, Contador, and Cancellara were able to benefit from time checks taken from earlier riders. Overall, I don't think the availability of timing information would have made much of a difference, maybe 10 seconds, and Leipheimer faced similar conditions and went 10 seconds faster than Lance.

Being 40 seconds out of the yellow jersey and 22 seconds behind Contador is not a bad place for Lance to be right now. His ride didn't make the statement that his opening day performances made back when he was the odds-on favorite for the yellow jersey. We always considered the prologue or Stage 1 time trial as a great place to deliver a psychological blow to his rivals, an opportunity to put them on the defensive right out of the blocks. This year, Contador accomplished that goal, and out of the non-Astana yellow jersey contenders, only Cadel Evans should be considering the day a success. Defending champion Carlos Sastre lost nearly a full minute to Contador, Garmin's Christian Vandevelde lost nearly 40 seconds, and the biggest loser of the day was Rabobank's Denis Menchov who lost well over a minute.

With four riders in the top 10 overall after the first stage, Astana has shown they have come to the 2009 Tour de France with both horsepower and depth. There's a ton of racing left to be done, and no one - not even Denis Menchov - has completely fallen out of contention for the yellow jersey yet. As for Lance, he's fine, but he's fourth man on a team of nine right now, and that's not a position race fans are accustomed to seeing him in. Just remember, it's a long race and Lance is ready to step whole-heartedly into any role that ends up leading to an overall victory for Astana.

Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong's coach for 20 years and is the founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS).

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