An interview with Chris Carmichael, July 9, 2007
This year's Tour de France is about as wide open as any in recent years, so who should you pick? Cyclingnews decided to forgo the magic eight-ball and ask someone with some experience with the race - Lance Armstrong's longtime coach Chris Carmichael. Mark Zalewski got ahold of Carmichael between his own training for the Leadville 100.
Last year Chris Carmichael gave us an inside line as to who the top contenders would be in the Tour de France, and his first pick was right on. So why not tap the crystal ball again this year before running to the sportsbook?
"Vinokourov obviously is a big favourite," declared Carmichael. "There were a couple of good, impressive performances out of him in the Dauphiné Libéré. In the time trial he was especially impressive. But it was good he wasn't up there winning the race because it's good to have what I call a 'training effect' after. If you win you might be flat come the tour, but this way you recover a little and you are stronger and faster than you were before."
"The exception to this was Lance who could win both," he added. "But in 2003 he pushed too hard in the Dauphiné to beat Mayo and in retrospect he would have been a little stronger in the Tour if he had let Mayo win."
"I think Levi is going to have an excellent Tour." -Chris Carmichael thinks his countryman will do well
Carmichael continued in order down his list of top contenders, next turning to the likely American favourite - Levi Leipheimer. "I think Levi is going to have an excellent Tour," he predicted. "Last year he won the Dauphiné and had an up and down tour. I think he recognized and learned after last year, so he rode somewhat conservatively or within himself. I think you are going to see a stronger Levi because of it."
"Valverde is up and down, and it's hard to know if he can handle the rigors of the Tour for three weeks, but you have to count him up there," confessed Carmichael. "Cadel Evans also there, if for nothing other than his ITT. Kloden tactically has not been the most astute - last year being a good example. They made a big error letting Floyd get that much time. If he had kept that team together... they banked on Floyd cracking and you don't have control of strategy like that."
As for the impact of the layout of this year's Tour, Carmichael says the start could have an effect. "You start in London and that always affects you with the travel," he noted. "It's amazing, the logistics always take a toll, even on a short transfer. And in the first 10 days of the race there is always something that happens that takes out a favourite. Valverde crashed last year and it always happens in the first week.
"The first mountain stage is also a topsy turvy time going from flats to uphill, and there usually is a favourite not making it on the first climbs," he continued. "Then with the Pyrenees, those will be the deciding point. You have to get through the alps and the winner will come from there and the ITT."
State of the sport
As a former professional, and now trainer of many elite cyclists, Carmichael is a good one to ask about the roller coaster ride the sport has had in the previous years.
"This last 12 months has been very difficult for the sport," he said. "I believe that the sport needs to continue to step up and press itself for how it is going to maintain integrity. I think the UCI is taking some steps to do that, and drug testing is important, but looking beyond that is more important. You are seeing that with some teams and the UCI charter being signed by athletes.
"It's proactive versus reactive, and drug testing is reactive," he stated. "If you put deterrents in there to make it more difficult to dope in the first place is a step in the right direction. We work with more elite athletes and I can tell you, in all top sports everybody wants to be able to get an edge. A lot of sports deal with it proactively."
Carmichael suggests taking a page from, of all sports, NASCAR. "I was at a NASCAR event and an official pointed and said those cars are sequestered until tomorrow because they had already been through the controls," he explained. "They view it as their job to stay ahead of it with the procedures so that it is difficult for teams to take advantage of loopholes. So having the teams and UCI and national bodies look proactively to build in deterrence is very important."
Training with the Tour
As was the case last year, Carmichael's company will have audio training podcasts available free for downloading that will run in sync with the Tour. "Do the Tour...stay at home," he called it. "This year it's Lance and me and he'll be talking about the key stages and what to look for. He'll also be revisiting some of the dramatic moments in his Tour de France reign, which will make it interesting."
Carmichael said last year's podcasts were a success which is the reason behind its continuation. "We had a lot of people download - close to 60,000. We anticipate with Lance being apart of it going beyond that."
CTS is also seeing continued confirmation of success from the elite level. "We have two athletes nominated for an ESPY this year - Dean Karnazes, an ultra-marathon athlete and Amy Palmero, who is nominated for best female athlete with a disability. It's good confirmation for us."
An important aspect of Carmichael's business is that it isn't 'do as I say, not as I do' motto, evident by the upcoming race he is training for. "I'll be [at the Tour] for a few days - this is one of the first years I don't have to be there the whole time. I'm training for the Leadville 100 and I rode with Lance on Sunday," he said. "There are five climbs in the first and last 25 miles and I can tell you Lance is still in good shape still!"
Carmichael said that the seven-time Tour winner showed signs of wanting to get out there with Carmichael and lead the charge. "I think he would like to compete in it - he is such a competitor."