No Bad Days

It’s the first week of July, which means the Tour De France has started again. The Tour, of late, has taken on a certain sameness. Lance starts, Lance stays out of trouble, Lance wins in the mountains, Lance takes more time in the time trials, Lance wins the race. While some would want you to believe that this makes the race boring (and they are, to a certain extent, correct) one should always keep in mind exactly what it takes to be the guy that does what Lance is doing.

As we pointed out last year, the Tour is made up of three types of races, day by day:

1. Flat road stages.

2. Mountain road stages.

3. Time Trials.

So, the first thing the guy who wins needs to be able to do is always do well in each type of stage. He doesn’t have to win every stage, he just has to not lose time to anyone “important”, that is, anyone else who might be able to win the race. He has to be strong enough in the time trials to either win or not lose time. More importantly, he has to not lose time on hills. Miguel Indurain won the race five times while never winning a road stage by doing these two things. But people who can do these two things don’t come around a lot. That’s why in the last decade, there have been basically two major strong men in the Tour: Indurain and Armstrong.

But, there is more to this than just the physical. To win the race, you also need to avoid the myriad of little things that can take you out of the race, or make you lose enough time that you may as well quit. You need to avoid bad days.

Don’t crash

Now, if you watched the race at all, you know that this is easier said than done. The early road stages in particular are plagued by high speed crashes that will lose you the race immediately. Every single one of the major players who might have won the race in the last few years have crashed out of it in one way or another, sometimes more than once. If you think back, Ullrich has crashed in both a road stage and a time trial. Levi Leipheimer crashed out on the second day of the tour a few years ago and has never really made an impact since. Tyler Hamilton crashed and rode most of the race with a broken collarbone. Beloki crashed coming down a mountain.

Don’t get caught in the back

A few years ago, half of the contenders for the GC got caught in the back when the field split in a vicious cross wind over a road that got flooded. They lost around ten minutes, and therefore the race, by not paying attention for a critical twenty minutes. Lance never does this.

Don’t bonk

Lance has actually done this a couple of times. But each time, he managed to limit his losses and make them back later.

Don’t get sick

Every year you hear about people dropping out because of food problems, stomach problems, or other health problems. Somehow Lance avoids this.

Don’t have bad days.

So, think about it, in six races over (say) 15,000 miles and 120 days, Lance and company has only ever had maybe four or five bad days that I can remember. A few minor crashes, bonked on a mountain once and in a time trial once. He has had his share of good luck (i.e. being able to avoid Beloki that day), but for the most part, the most amazing thing about this run is the consistency of the Lance and his team in winning the race year after year. In the face of hundreds of potential problems every day, they pull through and manage to make it a race where all Lance has to do is ride faster than the other people. Nothing else gets in the way.

This, I think, is an amazing fact that the day to day coverage of the race doesn’t really illustrate.

Six years, never two bad days in a row. That’s how you win the Tour.

Forty-five minutes after I wrote the above text, Team CSC came within a few seconds of holding on to the race leader’s jersey by almost beating Lance and Discovery Channel in the team time trial. But, coming into the last kilometer the yellow jersey, Dave Zabriskie, crashed. So another good day for Lance, another bad day for someone else.