Thursday, July 08, 2004

Armstrong Not in Yellow!

You read it right, folks. Lance Armstrong lost the yellow jersey in the Tour de France today. But before you get depressed or start calling him names, consider this: there is no need for Lance to be in 1st place overall at this point in the race. Remember, this race is 3 weeks long. That's a lot of riding. And there are still many mountains to climb. If Lance and the US Postal squad were to hoof it in the beginning stages of this race just to get and keep the yellow jersey now, it would lessen their chances of reaching peak form by the mountainous stages and at the end of the race. Also, the riders who broke away from the peloton and finished 3-9 minutes ahead of Armstrong overall are not expected to be able to hang with the big guns* when the mountain stages arrive. All of the expected leaders were in the peloton with Lance, so he had nothing to worry about in terms of losing precious overall time to them. So, defending the yellow jersey today would not have been a wise move. Yesterday's win in the team time trial was worth it because a time trial is different than a regular stage - each team rides alone, so the strategy becomes to ride as fast as possible rather than watching how the other teams are doing right next to you as in a regular stage.

Here is a good quote from an article at VeloNews:

Stage racing isn't about giving it 100 percent all the time. No one has the strength for that. It is about riding smart.

"So why would anyone push it now to win a stage?" you ask. Good question. There are many teams in the Tour who do not expect to win the whole kit 'n caboodle. They will not get the exposure that the other expected contenders will. By winning a stage, they get their individual name in lights and also the names of their sponsors. Money talks, after all. But don't let me sound cynical - it's not just about sponsorship. It's also about a bike race and the chance to win when you can. It is a competition among the world's best cyclists and what a heady experience to work your tail off for years to have the chance to say, "I won a stage in the Tour de France!"

*Note: I must mention that in the magazine article referenced above, there is a huge, gaping hole in their list of contenders - Tyler Hamilton, the American who rode last year's Tour with a broken collarbone and STILL came in 4th place overall! He rode with US Postal for a few years before moving to another team so that he could be the team leader. He's got the goods to give Armstrong a run for his money and I'm disappointed that the magazine didn't include him in their list.

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