What's Cool In Road Cycling

Carmichael Sez: The Closest Tour Podium Ever

Race Analysis St. 19 – After the most exciting time trial in recent memory, I can’t actually say which rider had the most impressive performance, so I’ll take a look at the rides from the incredible three, as they all stepped up for one final day of outstanding racing in what has been one of the best Tours in years.

By: Chris Carmichael

Alberto Contador came into the Stage 19 individual time trial with a realistic chance of losing the yellow jersey. At just 60 kilograms, he’s a small rider better suited to sharp accelerations on steep mountain passes. Small riders tend to struggle in long time trials because they don’t have the muscle mass to generate the power of a bigger man. HeпїЅs definitely not a time trial specialist, and his leading margin of 1:50 over Cadel Evans put him within striking range of the Australian. But with the yellow jersey on his back, the Tour de France at stake, and Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong encouraging him from the team car, he rode the time trial of his life to retain 23 seconds of his lead, more than enough to win the Tour de France.

Cadel Evans had to go two seconds faster than Contador for every kilometer of Stage 19 to take the yellow jersey, and he came really close to achieving his goal. Finishing just 23 seconds shy of what he needed, the Australian took back about 1.56 seconds every kilometer. Close, but not quite enough. Even so, he put in an absolutely amazing ride and will record the best-ever Tour de France finish for an Australian cyclist. I have no doubt he’ll be back in 2008 to try to become the first Aussie to win the yellow jersey.

Levi Leipheimer rode the time trial everyone knew he had in him to close to an amazing eight seconds behind Evans and 31 seconds behind Contador. His performance today was the fourth fastest long time trial in Tour de France history and earned him the stage win he’s been pursuing for several years. Though he seemed to many to be racing very conservatively throughout the Tour, you can’t argue with success, and a position on the podium in Paris is a success no matter how you look at it.

With seconds at stake, everything these riders did during the time trial mattered. One of the big things we’ve learned in the wind tunnel is that head position makes a big difference in reducing aerodynamic drag. Teardrop-shaped helmets like the Giro model worn by Contador and Leipheimer smooth the airflow over the head and neck, reducing turbulence and directing it over the back. But that same teardrop shape can actually work against a rider if he holds his head in the wrong position. When a rider looks down, the back of the helmet rotates up into the wind and creates additional drag. So, not only is it important to keep your head up to see where you’re going, but it’s also an important part of maintaining an optimal aerodynamic position.

Taking the best line through corners and roundabouts is also critical. At 53.068 kilometers per hour, Leipheimer covered 14.74 meters every second. His eight-second deficit to Evans works out to just 117 meters on the road. If Evans hadn’t taken the perfect line through the corners and roundabouts, he could have easily added more than 117 meters to his path over the course, which would have cost him second place overall. That’s why all three of the top men went out before the stage to look at the course and take mental notes about the places where they had to swing wide and places where they could cut through the shortest line through corners.
Saving or gaining seconds in a long time trial also requires a lot of discipline.

Everyone starts slowing down in the final 10 kilometers of a 55.5-kilometer effort, but you have to have discipline in the early kilometers to avoid slowing down too much. This is where experience plays a huge role in time trial performances. You have to go out hard, but also can’t afford to ride too hard in the first 15 kilometers of an hour-long effort. The fact that the time gaps between the top three riders in the overall classification remained almost unchanged over the final five kilometers of Stage 19 shows that each paced their efforts to perfection. If they look back over the time trial, I doubt any one of them would say there was a period where they could have or should have gone any harder.

When you consider how easy it is to lose seconds in a long time trial and how hard it is to gain them, the performances in Stage 19 of the 2007 Tour de France become all the more impressive. There’s no doubt that in terms of power, skill, tactics, and speed, Contador, Evans, and Leipheimer have more than earned their positions on the podium in Paris.

I chose Stage 19 as a critical day of the 2007 Tour de France and recorded an audio workout for the ‘Do The Tour Stay At Home’ series. Time Trial World Champion Mari Holden joined me to record an interval workout that’s specifically designed to help you train at race pace, just like she did to prepare for World’s and just like I had Lance Armstrong do in the winter and spring before the Tour de France. Check it out and download it to your iPod at www.trainright.com.

• Chris Carmichael coached Lance Armstrong throughout his 15-year cycling career. For more information on Carmichael Training Systems’ 9+3 Coaching Offer, the Do the Tour…Stay at Home_ audio workouts with Lance Armstrong, and our free Tour de France Newsletter, visit TrainRight.com.

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