Coach: Future looks bright for Armstrong

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Editor's note: Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong's coach since 1990, guiding him to five straight Tour de France titles. Elected to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in May, he is also the author of ''The Ultimate Ride'' and wrote a twice-weekly column for The Associated Press during the race.

PARIS Before Lance Armstrong and I can begin thinking about the 2004 Tour de France, we are going to spend some time enjoying his fifth victory.

Taking the time to recognize and celebrate a huge accomplishment is critical to continued success because it reinforces the passion an athlete must have in order to win a race like the Tour de France.

You can't win the Tour de France through strategy and tactics alone. For a portion of the Tour's second week this year, Lance was racing entirely with his head and not with his heart. Things hadn't gone his way, he was struggling, and he needed to find the momentum that would again carry him to Paris in the yellow jersey.

From a coach's perspective, Lance had the physical conditioning to take control of the Tour de France, but he needed to rediscover his emotional connection to the race. Lance is an extremely powerful rider, and when he is fired up about racing and he places value on an accomplishment, he can attack with a ferocity that is frightening in its intensity.

Instead of falling into a normal rhythm, the 2003 Tour de France jerked and jolted its way through two weeks of crashes, near misses, and bizarre occurrences. Along the way, Lance got caught up in dealing with minor daily problems and lost sight of the bigger picture. The Tour de France, and Lance's place within it, snapped back into focus when his handlebar snagged a spectator's bag on the road to Luz-Ardiden. In that moment, the accumulated clutter of the previous two weeks fell away and Lance saw exactly what had to happen. He had to get up, get back on his bike, and win the Tour de France on that climb. There was no decision to be made, no strategy to be discussed; it was time to go and put an end to the idea that anyone was going to take his yellow jersey.

Lance's margin of victory in the 2003 Tour de France was smaller than in any of his previous four wins. In addition to his own problems with crashes and dehydration, his competition was stronger than in any previous Tour. Jan Ullrich came back from the depths of career and personal troubles to have a great Tour de France. He is without a doubt the greatest threat to Lance's chances of winning a record-setting sixth yellow jersey.

The attacks against Lance came from all over the peloton. In previous years, large time gaps separated the top 10 riders by the end of the first mountain stage. This year, the top three riders were within 20 seconds of each other after two weeks of racing. The yellow jersey was up for grabs, and it is such an enticing garment that anyone with even a remote chance of wearing it feels compelled to attack.

The challenges Lance faced en route to his fifth Tour de France victory will have a significant effect on his preparation for the 2004 Tour. He proved he was the strongest and smartest man battling for the yellow jersey this year, but he felt the pressure that comes when you see there's a real chance you're going to lose.

That feeling is so abhorrent to Lance Armstrong that he will approach his training for the 2004 Tour de France with a renewed sense of purpose and determination. Not only does he plan on winning a sixth Tour de France, he's planning on doing it on his terms: by being so prepared and so powerful that no one can come close to challenging him again.

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