Chris Carmichael

Lance 'on the limit'

2009-07-20 09:59
Chris Carmichael (File)
Chris Carmichael

Well, fireworks were expected on Stage 15, and fireworks were delivered. Alberto Contador showed that he is the strongest climber in the 2009 Tour de France, and he opened up a gap over his major rivals that will be difficult for anyone to close. For his part, Lance Armstrong was good, but others were stronger. He's in a good position overall, sitting in second place at 1:37 behind Contador, and his lead over several pre-race favorites is quite solid.

The strategy employed by the teams hoping to put Astana into difficulty was pretty clear. Rather than ride the first portion of the final climb at a steady tempo, teams like Saxo Bank and Garmin put their domestiques on the front to set a furious pace in the kilometres leading into the ascent. Once on the climb, they continued to force the pace. Saxo Bank strongmen Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara gave their all in the first 1.5km of the 8.7km climb. But before their leader, Andy Schleck, could launch his attack, Contador surged off the front. It was a great move, because he basically capitalised on Saxo Bank's work before Schleck did. Schleck followed soon after, but he couldn't match Contador's acceleration - seemingly no one can - and he wasn't able to latch on to the Spaniard's rear wheel.

Behind, the high pace of the opening kilometres put a few pre-race favourites in trouble. Defending champion Carlos Sastre lost ground, and Christian Vande Velde exited the back of the contenders' group. Lance, Andreas Kloden, Cadel Evans, Frank Schleck, and perhaps most notably, Bradley Wiggins, were all there. Within the final five kilometres, there were surges and the group began to split up. Sastre found his legs and rode back into the group, but Lance started to lose ground.

Lance wasn't holding back in order to ride tempo in the group as Contador accelerated up the road (as he did in Stage 7). Ideally, he would have liked to stay with Sastre, Evans, and Wiggins in the closing kilometres. But Lance is smart and knew that a consistent ride on the climb to Verbier would keep him in second place overall, and with Contador in the yellow jersey, being in second place overall gives Astana a strategic advantage over all their rivals.

Some people may be quick to write off Armstrong because he didn't display the same dominant climbing power he had a few years ago. I think it's a little premature for that kind of talk. There's no doubt he could have gone better, but it was far from a disaster. If anything, the result is likely to relieve any tensions there may have been within Astana. Lance has said from the beginning that once it was clear that one rider on the team had the greatest chance of riding into Paris in yellow, the team would work for that rider. As always happens in the Tour de France, the race reveals who is the strongest (a point Astana boss Johan Bruyneel made in a pre-race interview). It doesn't matter what might be talked about in team meetings, around the dinner table, or in the press room. Contador showed that he's most likely the man to win the 2009 Tour de France. If I was in his position, there's no team-mate I'd rather have working for me than Armstrong.

Monday is the Tour de France's second rest day, and that is followed by more stages in the Alps. I expect Lance to be a factor in those stages, especially in an effort to take time out of riders like Sastre, Wiggins, and Andy Schleck before the penultimate stage to Mont Ventoux. It may have looked today like Contador is unstoppable in the mountains, but Lance knows from experience that for the rider in the yellow jersey, opening up a bigger lead is always worth the effort.


Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong's coach for 20 years and is the founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). For more 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, visit You can also follow Chris at


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