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Tour de France feature

Lance living: It's a good thing

By Tim Maloney, correspondent
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Armstrong attacks on l'Alpe d'Huez
Photo: © AFP

For the last three years, one of the most dramatic moments in the Tour De France has come when Lance Armstrong has made his dramatic, race winning attack in the mountains. His legs spinning at a rapid cadence, perched forward on the saddle, Armstrong seems to fly up the mountain "a la mobylette" as they say in French bike racing slang.

"I didn't specifically work on pedal speed," says Armstrong. Every year as I get older, I can work harder. Our camps are harder every year; almost like a race."

Cyrille Guimard, a noted former racer who has coached riders like Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond backed this up. "The way (Armstrong) has progressed in every way as a rider shows the enormous work he's done. The difference between Armstrong and Ullrich is that one prepares all year 'round for the Tour de France, the other does it for a month."

Armstrong has spoken of another level to himself going forward. "I am just coming into my best years," said Lance on rest day in Pau. "This year I did new things; stretching and abdominal work."

Chris Carmichael of Carmichael Training Systems and Lance's longtime coach confirms this. "This program came from Lance's chiropractor Jeff Spencer. Lance is perhaps the tightest guy around; stretching is a big step forward for him. Lance made a huge effort and it paid off. He has a bone spur in his lower back that impacted his aero position, but the stretching helped this," said Carmichael.

"Merckx changed Lance's position when he went pro in '92," said Carmichael. "Eddy lowered his saddle and gave him more setback, Lance has powerful quads and he sits farther forward than a lot of riders. He really gets over the pedals and drives them down."

Lance has slowly matured and with input from people like Carmichael and Merckx and Spencer, he has become "the complete package", as Carmichael likes to say.
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Armstrong prepares
Photo: © Sirotti

Jeff Spencer has worked with Lance since 1999. The Scottsdale, Arizona based doctor of chiropractics told Cyclingnews that "these elements (stretching and abdominal work) are just a few of the various things I do with Lance. He has the outlook of a real champion; taking information from various sources, filters them and uses what he needs to win."

OLNTV commentator Paul Sherwen noted the other day that "I never fail to be astounded by Lance's pedaling cadence these days. I worked with him in the Motorola days and then he climbed "en force" as Ullrich does today. It was after a meeting with Miguel Indurain, the five time Tour winner, at the Ride for the Roses that he realised that the higher cadence was the best route for him to take."

Cyclingnews asked Davide Cassani, himself a TV commentator for RAI Italian TV and an accomplished ex-pro himself what he thought Lance was doing in training to obtain that type of agility. "It's not that easy," said Cassani. "He is developing that style in training, probably by alternating strength intervals (with SRM Powermeter training) with agility intervals."

Carmichael told us that "Lance's training to achieve this agility comes from low cadence, high tension training. This puts huge tension on the muscles, but it's great for developing the fast twitch muscle fibers for explosive power. Lance does these low cadence intervals over 10 to 15 minutes a4 40-50 rpm on a gentle gradient, then does an agility interval in a low gear. Or else he alternates 1 minute low cadence with 30 second agility. And he'll also do these type of low cadence, high tension training on the flat, with a gear like 54x11."
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The test of truth
Photo: © AFP

Lance's agile, toes down pedaling style may be visually reminiscent of 5 time Tour De France Champion Jacques Anquetil. Cyclingnews discussed Lance Armstrong with Jean-Yves Donor. Mr. Donor covers cycling for Paris daily Le Figaro and is head of the International Association of Cycling Journalists. We asked Donor if the comparison of Lance with Anquetil is appropriate.

"Well, not really," said Donor. "Anquetil was a elegant rider who was really a time trial specialist in his day. His riding style was so smooth he looked like he was just sailing along. Anquetil was very powerful in his rear end, and used this to drive his pedaling, while not moving his upper body."

"On the other hand, Armstrong is a much more physical rider than Anquetil. He uses his arms and shoulders to power the bike. And of course, cycling is so different now; the sport is not at all the same as in the day of Anquetil. If you could construct a android of champion cyclists of the past that would be like Armstrong, first you would have to use the head of Eddy Merckx, who had the winning drive and desire. His pedaling is more like Lucien Van Impe, who was a pure climber. Anquetil was not a climber. And you would have to add the power of Hinault as a 'rouleur'."

Next on the program for Lance may be the World Hour Record. With the new, 'conventional' WHR formula, Lance certainly has the potential to take the record from current holder Chris Boardman, based on his Tour De France time trial performances. Number 1 ranked cyclist in the world Armstrong has won his third consecutive Tour De France and his laser-like focus and innovative, dynamic approach to the sport he loves should offer cycling fans worldwide a few more years of excitement.

When Lance won his first Tour in 1999, mostly to the surprise of the world's cycling community, the TDF was struggling to emerge from a crisis. Three years after the TDF crisis of '98, just as his Nike stable mate Tiger Woods has impacted golf, Armstrong's dynamic bike racing, maniacal preparation and deep drive to win the Tour has not only revitalized the Tour, but it has brought a new, welcome dimension to cycling as a sport.

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