July 4, 2005
Another flat day and another stage spent protecting Lance Armstrong by the Discovery Channel team. "Safety" is the catch-cry for stages like these; no one wants any drama like back in 1999 when a crash on the sketchy and slick Pasage du Gois took out the hopes of many riders, including one of the overall favourites, Alex Zulle.
"Looking ahead to the Team Time Trial tomorrow, safety is the word again. We want to just stay out of trouble, even more so than yesterday because of the wind, plus the route has quite a bit of up and down," said assistant Director Sportif Dirk Demol. "We expect CSC to ride at the front of the peloton because:
1. They want to defend their jersey, and,
2. They know they have a very strong team for the TTT. But it's difficult to tell if the peloton is as stressed this year versus last year - we only have one day's racing to look at. Maybe we can tell after four or five days...at least today we have a very long final that will make the finish safer."
Team mechanic Geoff Brown, who's riding along in the #2 car with Demol echoed, "Safety is the word - don't lose any time, and don't lose any skin."
Not to discount the day's racing ahead, but clearly the team was thinking a lot about the critical 67.5 km TTT tomorrow. Assistant DS Sean Yates shed some light on the team's strategy going in, saying "Well, the strategy is to go as fast as possible (laughs)...but the team order is based on rider size and strength (noting that no rider in the Tour de France is classified as "weak"). You want an equal distribution through the squad. We usually will start with a taller guy like Pavel, then a smaller guy like Paolo, and keep alternating back. But you have to be aware of TT strength as well - again, none of the guys are weak, but you can't have a very strong man crushing it followed by a pure climbing specialist."
He went on, "The length of time a rider spends at the front is basically determined on the road within the team. Initially it's an equally shared time frame, but in the second half of the stage it's usually the stronger guys doing the bulk of the work, and the other guys doing maybe just 300m before coming off the front. There's no real signal for pulling off, either - you're the only team on that part of the road so the other riders know that when you pull off to the side you're done and the next man comes through."
With Stage 3 completed and everyone home safe and sound, the team has accomplished one of its primary goals: getting home safe. Whether or not they can attain the next goal - win the TTT and put further time into their rivals - remains to be seen, but the team is definitely optimistic. More - a lot more - from Tours and Blois tomorrow.