An interview with Chris Carmichael, June 29, 2006
Chris Carmichael is best known for serving as Lance Armstrong's personal coach and trainer during his seven wins at the Tour de France. However, Carmichael was also a professional cyclist, racing with the 7-Eleven team and the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. Since hanging up the bike as a pro, Carmichael went on to develop revolutionary coaching techniques and in 1999 founded Carmichael Training Systems. Now that Carmichael is not all-consumed by preparing Lance for Le Tour, Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski got his personal predictions for this year's race and to hear about how you can do the Tour.
Cyclingnews: Let's get right to it, who is going to win this year's Tour de France?
Chris Carmichael: It's pretty hard to tell! The Americans have been doing great. Floyd Landis has had a great season so far. His challenge will be that none of the stuff really matters right now. When you look back at Tour of California and Tour de Georgia and then come to the Tour de France, it's like none of that matters. But he has been riding really well.
Basso was so impressive at the Giro and he kind of played with everybody. If he still has that form and can capitalise upon it on the key mountain stages in the Alps, then you have to say he is the guy. But Ullrich has been getting stronger. If I had to pick I would say Ullrich first, then Basso and then a mix of the Americans in there - a Landis, a Leipheimer...
"I think one of the things that has impacted the peloton is that you have to be a 24/7, 365 days-a-year athlete." -Carmicheal explains the sacrifices that athletes have to make if they are to be sucessful.
I think with experience [Ullrich] is hitting his form just right. I think these long time trials play in his favour. And something always happens that first week of the race, you always lose a favourite. I think some new guys will come to the forefront that haven't been there before, and Ullrich will be able to be the guy that will be consistent throughout, gain time in the time trial and limit any potential loses during that last week.
CN: You are obviously most familiar with the Discovery Channel team, so who from there is the likely candidate?
CC: We do a lot with the Discovery team with their aerodynamics. We were with the team all through the spring and did work with Savoldelli, George and Tom Danielson on the velodrome in Los Angeles. We measured the power they were putting out over set markers, changed their position and then went out and performed the same protocol. We saw the power output drop and knew we had them in a more aerodynamic position. We reduced their aerodynamic drag while they put out the same power levels. That is a big gain we made with the Discovery team.
Obviously, Savoldelli has had some great prologue time trials and hopefully he has made some gains on the road. An interesting thing when we did this back in February in Los Angeles it was pretty clear when he got on the track that this guy could be a very good pursuit rider as well! I think we were able to reduce his watts fairly significantly which has led to better performance in these prologue time trials.
The whole interesting thing of the race is [which team] will take control of the race. Who takes the responsibility. Johan [Bruyneel] is going to look at Savoldelli, Popovych, George [Hincapie] and he's got Azevedo too. He has some pretty good cards to play early in the race, and who is going to put their guys on the front to chase something down. Is CSC going to do it, is T-Mobile going to take that responsibility? So it's going to be a really interesting race. But I think Ullrich is my favourite now.
CN: You and Lance really spearheaded a new way of approaching racing, particularly The Tour. Do you think that any of your approaches have filtered into the entire peloton?
CC:: I think one of the things that has impacted the peloton is that you have to be a 24/7, 365 days-a-year athlete. You have to look at all of the little details and the little details are what add up. Ivan Basso looks like he is following that same track. He has made big improvements in his time trial - he has changed his position from where it was four years ago.
Floyd has also seen it first hand when he was with Discovery and is following a similar path. I think it is looking at the details and realising that if you get small gains in three of four areas that might seem insignificant on their own, but when you add up it can be a one or two percent gain in performance. And at that level, one or two percent can make a huge difference.
CN: What do you think is the next frontier of training?
CC: I think the next frontier is making sure that you are individualising all the aspects that affect performance. For example, some guys perform better at a higher pedal cadence whereas some guys do not perform as well. Looking at how the different types of equipment that is coming out [impact performance], like changing the chainring to an elliptical shape might give a performance mechanics for some guys that pedal a certain way. But to say that as an overall [rule it will work] for everybody is not going to be the case. Another example is that some riders can take in a higher amount of carbohydrates without getting an upset stomach whereas another athlete will not. So individualizing all aspects that affect performance like clothing, biomechanics, nutrition to customize for a rider is next.
CN: What are your thoughts on the future of U.S. cycling, beyond this crop of contenders?
CC: There is Saul Raisin who we work with now and since he was fifteen years old - I think he was really starting to make some good gains. I think we will see a lot of him, and wow, he's already starting to get back on the bike. So we will keep our fingers crossed for Saul. As for the overall future of U.S. cycling, we work with a few guys on the under 23 team. John Devine, John Murphy and Zach Taylor are pretty good. But there is always a lot of attrition at that level. I think the challenge for U.S. cycling is to really make sure that there is that program that can consistently put riders out and develop them. I would say that the Tour of California and Tour de Georgia is really good for bringing young kids into the sport. And having Noel de Jonckheere over in Europe with the U-23 programme is good.
But it is always a challenge. Kids are not participating in sports like they did twenty years ago. I would saythat overall sports in general in the U.S. will face greater challenges than we faced before. That is just because I think kids are participating in sports less.
It sure seems like we are doing the right stuff, having an event like the Tour of California, the national program has coaches, the U-23 program set-up in Europe is great. A lot of things are in place, but endurance sports are facing greater challenges to recruit young people.
CN: What is the new Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) program offering for The Tour?
CC: So many people train with iPods and mp3 players and it's an opportunity to deliver a message with great information. So what we did was put together workouts that match up with seven key stages of the Tour de France. Basically, it walks someone right through the workout so that you can focus on riding - it will prompt you how long the workout should be, how many minutes are left to go in a certain interval; to get out of the saddle and sprint - so a person will be riding along and be prompted for the workout. We matched it with all original music so you don't have to find your own playlist, it is all self-contained.
The downloads are available free until the stage and then archived. We will have an ongoing set of audio workouts available after the initial one. We will break it up by length. Most people want to have a goal when they get on the bike, they want to know exactly what they have to do without looking down or pulling out a sheet. They want to comfort of listening to music while they are doing it - it's clear from the growth in that area.
CN: Is own music possible?
CC: We are looking at that for the future. We are also doing video clips as well so you can look at your computer to show you what a power interval looks like, or download it to your iPod. Me and Bob Roll are hosting it.
CN: And what is this I hear about CTS and NASCAR?
CC: We have Mark Webber coming in between the Montreal F1 race and the US race in Indy to do some testing. You need to understand that the drivers are athletes and that the demands of their sport are pretty intense. They were racing yesterday in Sonoma where it was 95-degrees and a road course, so they are back and forth. If you look at it, everyone is looking for a performance edge and if your car is in great shape, got great engineers and team, and then you have a driver who it fit and in shape versus a driver who is fat and out of shape, there will be a performance advantage. We are seeing more growth in motor sports in general. These guys are understanding that they have to be looking at their own conditioning and nutrition.