Saturday, July 19, 2003 Updated: July 22, 6:54 PM ET
Spaniards might inadvertently help
By Chris Carmichael Associated Press
CAP'DECOUVERTE, France -- Lance Armstrong lives to be
challenged, and at this year's Tour de France, he is up against the
biggest challenges he has faced in the past five.
It will be a brutal fight all the way to the finish line in
Paris, and Lance is committed to giving every last ounce of his
energy to win his fifth yellow jersey.
Jan Ullrich is perhaps the most talented cyclist in the world,
and he announced his return to the top of professional cycling with
a resounding win in Friday's 12th stage individual time trial.
Lance, U.S. Postal Service team director Johan Bruyneel, and I
knew Ullrich's potential for the time trial, and once we saw the
results of stage 12, the strategy for the Pyrenees became perfectly
In order for Lance to win this year's Tour, he needs to attack
Ullrich in the Pyrenees and build more of a lead than the German
can take back in the stage 19 time trial. Lance has an advantage
over Ullrich on steep ascents, and he is going to have to exploit
that every chance he gets.
Power-to-weight ratio is one of the measures used to compare
Tour de France contenders, and Armstrong has an advantage over
Ullrich in that he has a higher ratio. To determine the ratio, we
take a rider's maximum sustainable power and divide it by his
weight in kilograms, giving us a value in watts per kilogram.
Power-to-weight ratio matters most in the mountains, where
riders have to use their power to overcome the effects of gravity.
If two riders produce the same wattage, the lighter man will climb
faster. On flat ground, gravity and body weight don't matter as
much, and the man who can produce the highest wattage has the
Having a high ratio gives Lance the ability to accelerate faster
than his rivals on climbs. The steeper the pitch, the more this
advantage is accentuated. Ullrich produces a lot of power and can
maintain a very high climbing pace, but he is a big man and
struggles to accelerate in response to attacks. Lance needs to
exploit his power-to-weight ratio advantage and attack Ullrich in
There are precedents to support Lance's strategy. In 2000, he
and Ullrich finished within 40 seconds of each other in the
individual time trial, and then Armstrong took more than three
minutes from the German on the summit finish to Hautacam. In 2001,
the men were separated by one minute in a 31-kilometer individual
time trial, and Lance accelerated away from Ullrich on Alp d'Huez
to gain two minutes in about six kilometers of climbing. And
earlier in this Tour, Lance again left Ullrich behind on the
opening steep slopes of Alp d'Huez and finished 1:24 ahead of him.
The Spanish climbers in the Tour de France may help Armstrong
accomplish his goals. The Pyrenees are on the border between Spain
and France, and the Spanish fans come out in droves to support
their heroes. It's not that Spanish climbers want Armstrong to win,
but rather that they want to attack for stage wins and to move up
the overall standings for themselves.
Euskaltel-Euskadi's Iban Mayo and ibanesto.com's Francisco
Mancebo are now more than four minutes behind Armstrong, and more
important, more than three minutes behind Alexandre Vinokourov in
third place overall. While Ullrich and Armstrong are fighting for
the top two places on the Tour de France podium, the Spaniards need
to attack in the mountains for a chance at finishing third in
Paris. Their efforts may inadvertently help Lance by increasing the
pressure on Ullrich in the Pyrenees.
Ullrich appears to be stronger than in previous Tours, and Lance
may take smaller chunks of time on each mountain stage than he has
before, but the important thing is to build on the 34-second lead
he preserved in the stage 12 time trial. Not only does this mean
leaving Ullrich behind in the mountains, but it also means going
for stage victories to try to get the 20-second time bonus awarded
to the stage winner. The best-case scenario for Lance would be to
leave the Pyrenees leading Ullrich by two minutes or more.
Lance Armstrong has always said the victories he values most are
the ones earned through the hardest struggles. That's why the
yellow jersey will never compare to his victory over cancer, the
challenge he is most proud to have overcome.
The Tour de France is inconsequential compared to beating
cancer, but Lance lives to make the most of his second chance at
life. He set his sights on a fifth Tour de France victory, he knows
he has to rise to the challenges facing him, and he won't back down
without a fight.
Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong's coach since
1990 and has guided him to four consecutive Tour de France titles.
He is writing a twice-weekly
column for The Associated Press during the Tour de France.