What's Cool In Road Cycling

Carmichael Sez: “Free For All”

That’s the best phrase to describe Stage 5 of the 2007 Tour de France, and it sure was exciting to watch. The stage featured the first climbs in the race that were significant enough to split the peloton, meaning it wasn’t a pure sprinters’ stage. But the climbs weren’t big enough to favor the climbing specialists either. And that leaves… about 150 opportunists looking for a shot at a Tour de France stage win.

– By Chris Carmichael –
In some ways, these “in-between” stages are the hardest of the entire race. In the big mountain stages, everyone knows the peloton is going to break apart, so there’s more order in the pack – climbers to the front, domestiques to the middle, and sprinters to the back. The same is true – to some extent – on the sprinters’ stages. Guys battle to stay out of the wind, but unless you’re a sprinter or working for a sprinter, you can be content to sit somewhere in the middle of the field.

Race leader Cancellara was jamming the descent, right on the front until he overshot a turn.

But on day like today, there are a lot of riders who think they can win so no one is willing to give up a wheel. That’s part of the reason we saw more crashes today than in previous days – even though there were fewer small towns and traffic islands to avoid.

By far, however, the biggest news of the day was Alexander Vinokorouv’s crash about 25 kilometers from the finish. The timing was terrible. The pace was very high and the peloton was approaching the final climb of the day, and by the time he had his teammates gathered around him to chase, he was already two minutes behind. In about 10 kilometers, the gap was reduced to one minute, but it cost Vinokourov every one of the six men who had come back to help him.

With a tricky descent to the finish, Vinokorouv realistically had to be back in the peloton by the summit of the climb if he was going to reach the finish with the lead group, but chasing alone through dropped riders, cars, and motorbikes, he crossed the summit about a minute behind. He dug deep, but lost 1:20 to the other yellow jersey contenders by the finish line.

Some people are likely to be critical of Astana for not bringing Andreas Kloden and Andrey Kashechkin back to help Vinokorouv, but I don’t think it would have helped. There was so much congestion on the climb that I don’t know that Vino could have caught up even with Kloden and Kashechkin pacing him. You have to minimize Vino’s losses but you don’t want to sacrifice your rider in second place overall when he is a legitimate yellow jersey contender in his own right.

Astana said goodbye to their ‘top team’ status, and possibly Vino’s GC hopes, after a working to bring him back after a late stage crash.

To be in the lead group with a chance to win the stage, you had to be able to survive about a 10 to 12-minute climb that topped out six kilometers from the finish. It’s no surprise that the guys who came to the line are the same names we normally talk about during the Spring Classics.

Filippo Pozzato won Milan-San Remo in 2006, a long classic that climbs the famous Poggio before a screaming descent to the finish. Both Erik Zabel and Oscar Freire have won Milan-San Remo before, too, and they were both in the top five today. And big George Hincapie – a man who can power up climbs and still sprint very fast – was there too.

Stages that give a lot of riders a real chance of a stage win are always dangerous, and Stage 5 was no exception. And between the big crash at the end of Stage 2 and the multiple falls today, there are a lot of battered riders at the Tour right now. With fatigue setting in after six days of racing, I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow’s stage is a relatively calm affair – until the final 30 kilometers when the sprinters’ teams come to the front.

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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