Armstrong Survives Tough First Week
Armstrong?s coach comments on the first week of the 2004 Tour de France.
Armstrong?s coach comments on the first week of the 2004 Tour de France... <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>
After the first week of the Tour de France, I half expect commentators to say, ?The 2004 Tour de France, brought to you by BAND-AID?.?
At this point it seems we?ve seen at least half the riders sliding across the road or flipping into ditches. Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service team haven?t escaped the carnage, though they?ve avoided the worst of it. The nine-man team has a collection of bumps and scrapes, but no injuries that should impede Lance?s quest for a sixth Tour de France victory.
As the race?s second week begins, Lance is just where he wants to be. He?s ahead of his main rivals, his team won a stage, and he wore the yellow jersey for a day before purposely giving it up to a young French rider. Sound confusing? Welcome to the Tour de France; grab some coffee and let me explain.
The Tour began perfectly for Armstrong with a second-place finish in the short, 3.8-mile Prologue time trial. More important than the 15-plus seconds he gained, Armstrong?s powerful performance delivered a serious psychological blow to his main rivals: German Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), American Tyler Hamilton (Phonak), and Spaniards Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) and Iban Mayo (Euskaltel Euskadi). If Lance took 15 seconds or more in just 3.8 miles of flat ground, how hard was he going to make their lives for the next three weeks?
Even before he started the Prologue, Lance?s heart rate indicated he was going to have a good day. He called me over during his warm-up and said, ?Check this out. I?m at 162 [beats per minute] and I feel like I?m barely working hard.? It wasn?t that his heart rate was abnormally high from dehydration or stress, but rather that he was able to maintain that intensity level with little effort. When he pushed harder, his heart rate responded quickly; and when he eased up, it went down just as fast. It was a good sign he was fresh, well rested, and ready to go.
The first few days of the Tour de France are always dangerous, and this year was no exception. Though there were several crashes during the Stages 1 and 2, Lance?s teammates did their jobs well and kept their leader out of harm?s way.
Stage 3 offered the first hazard that threatened to derail Lance?s Tour de France hopes. Organizers took the riders over two sections of Napoleon-era cobblestone roads, further increasing the risks of crashes and flat tires. The best place to be was at the front of the line, and with nearly 200 cyclists fighting to be within the first 10 men to reach a six-foot wide path of rough cobblestones, a crash was inevitable.
Armstrong, Ullrich, Hamilton, and Heras made it through safely, but Mayo wasn?t so lucky. Caught in a crash just before the cobblestones began, he never made it back to the lead group. Ahead on