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By Chris Carmichael
Economy of energy has been among the main topics of conversation between Lance and me over the past few months. We want to make sure Lance uses his maximum power at times when he has the most to gain from his effort. It is wasteful to expend extreme amounts of energy in situations where he might gain only a few seconds as a result.
The final climb of Stage 11 was hard, but not terribly steep. Roberto Heras’s blistering pace shattered the race within seconds of his arrival at the front of the lead group. Nearly ten of the world’s best climbers were dropped in the first 500 meters of his pull. Even so, no one lost that much time because the climb was not steep enough to completely crack an elite climber. Had Lance Armstrong attacked Joseba Beloki, he would more than likely have opened up a gap on the Spaniard, but not a very significant one. It was wise of Lance and the Postal Service to evaluate the costs and benefits of attacking on the Tourmalet.
The effort required to drop Joseba Beloki today would have cost more than the benefit of the time gained. There are steeper and harder climbs coming up, and a well-timed attack can net much more time there than could have been gained today.
Lance has the yellow jersey now, but the Tour de France is still far from being decided. Joseba Beloki must be seen as Lance’s primary threat, and so far this year he is climbing better than he has in the past. Roberto Heras deserved to win Stage 11, but it was more important for Lance to deny Beloki the bonus seconds given to a stage winner. Armstrong’s lead is not very large, and he had to be sure Beloki did not gain bonus seconds today which could make a big difference later on.
Stage 12 offers one of the most difficult profiles of the 2002 Tour de France. There are two Category 2 climbs and two Category 1 climbs, and the finish is on the summit of an Hors Category climb to Plateau-de-Beille. Tomorrow’s final climb is much more difficult than today’s, and the economy of energy Lance and I have been discussing could be very important.
An attack within the final 4 kilometers of Stage 12 could net a rider more than 2 minutes on his nearest rival. That attack could benefit Armstrong, but if it comes from one of his rivals, he has to have the energy to counter the attack or minimize the time he loses. Powerful men contend for the yellow jersey, but the man who wears it in Paris is the one who applies his power wisely.
I noticed that Jonathan Vaughters abandoned the Tour de France again. He was injured in a crash descending the Col du Soulor, and it is a shame to see him go home early for a fourth time. He is a talented racer and a good climber and I hope he finds the form and the luck to return and finish in 2003.