By Bruce Hildenbrand
As Lance Armstrong makes his professional cycling comeback for the 2009 season, he is relying on the expertise of his trusted support crew to guide him back to the form he will need to contest the Tour Down Under, the Giro d'Italia and the other races on his calendar. Chris Carmichael is taking care of one important aspect of Armstrong's return – his coaching.
A critical component in Armstrong's comeback is his training program. The rider from Texas, USA, is four years removed from his record-setting seventh Tour de France win and as he ages, a big unknown is how he will regain his winning form. Cyclingnews caught up with Armstrong's long-time coach Carmichael during Armstrong's testing at the San Diego Air and Space Technology Low Speed Wind Tunnel and asked him about his training plans.
With Armstrong being 37 years-old, will Carmichael be monitoring any new or different parameters this time around? "It is basically the same thing as with any athlete, the most objective marker is power," said Carmichael.
"Right now, it is just trying to see if we can get power to keep going up which we anticipate to happen. We also want to see that he is getting more efficient so his kilojoules will keep going down for similar types of workouts.
"Now he is starting to get more specific with his training moving out of the foundation phase and doing a little more specific work for the bike; a little more threshold work; a little more speed work. He goes to the Astana camp in December then we are planning a camp right after that where he will get behind the motor a little bit and up the volume from basically doing 24-25 hours a week up to 28-30 hours a week of training. That's a big jump on just energy expenditure so everything just has to start simplifying," said Carmichael, who once served as the US National Coaching Director.
But converting from cancer spokesperson to full-time athlete has been a bit difficult. "His schedule has still been pretty busy. It slows down here in another week. But, even since his announcement he has had to be fulfilling obligations that have been there all along."
Some of Armstrong's specific training will be used to clear out the cobwebs. "We are going to plan on more motor-pacing in December before he goes to the Tour Down Under and do some efforts at threshold behind and to the side of the motor, but at race speeds. That is something he has been out of. There is an element to speed that is important: how your bicycle reacts, how you pedal, how you sit on the bike, how you maneuver.
"All of that is different at 51, 52, 55 km/hr versus 38 to 40km/hr," said Carmichael. "Another thing we need to do is to get him around athletes that are pro cyclists. He has been doing a lot of rides with friends back in Texas and that's obviously not the guys who he is competing against.
"He did a training ride two weeks ago with Levi [Leipheimer] in northern California and that was good because Levi was just off the Vuelta [a España] not too long before, and Levi always stays in really good condition year round. Lance did 4-4.5 hours with him and he definitely knew it was different than riding with a lot of the other guys he has been riding with."
Putting on weight after retirement is one of the biggest pitfalls for professional athletes, but it appears that Armstrong's running and general commitment to good health has paid off. "He's light. Normally we would be concerned about weight, but he is about 76kg now and he is usually down to 72 at the start of the Tour so he is not that far off," he said
Carmichael shared his thoughts about the feasibility of Armstrong doing a Giro d'Italia / Tour de France double. "Is it possible? Yeah. We saw Indurain, Merckx, etc. do it. I think for Lance to win the Tour he really has to have good form at the Giro. It is not like he can just ride right through it and finish 50th. He needs to be, basically, on the podium because you need to have a training adaptation from the Giro to the Tour, but if you are so far off it is going to beat you up to much so you aren't going to recover and get that adaptation. It is just going to break you down."
"He needs to be in good enough shape to get on the podium. If he is there for a podium shot, he is a guy who doesn't like finish behind people in any, any race," said Carmichael.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of Lance Armstrong's comeback
January 18, 2009 - Armstrong announces start of Catlin's drug testing programme
January 8, 2009 - Armstrong impresses Carmichael prior to Tour Down Under
January 7, 2009 - Armstrong believes Team Astana can dominate Tour
December 10, 2008 - Merckx: Armstrong's return good for cycling and Giro
December 8, 2008 - Armstrong climbs Teide
December 6, 2008 - Rast on life with Armstrong
December 5, 2008 - Armstrong considers Tour of Ireland
December 5, 2008 - Armstrong: Contador is the best
December 4, 2008 - Horner unites with Armstrong despite past differences
December 3, 2008 - Armstrong and Contador ride separate paths towards Tour
December 2, 2008 - Armstrong surfs with Astana
December 2, 2008 - Armstrong plans to race Tour
December 1, 2008 - Armstrong's anti-doping testing program pending
November 23, 2008 - Media out of love with Armstrong?
November 22, 2008 - Andreu caught up in Armstrong fight again
November 19, 2008 - Armstrong concerned about Tour safety
November 17, 2008 - Armstrong to meet with ASO
November 9, 2008 - Armstrong racing in Texas again
November 7, 2008 - Exclusive Armstrong wind tunnel video
November 7, 2008 - Lance Armstrong speaks at Web 2.0 conference
November 6, 2008 - Carmichael dials in Armstrong's comeback training
November 5, 2008 - Armstrong looking for balance
November 5, 2008 - Photos from Armstrong's wind tunnel test
November 3, 2008 - Armstrong doubles up and heads to wind tunnel