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The Lance Blueprint: RIP

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Lance has loomed large over this Tour de France -- understandably given all that's happened the last 8 years, and given OLN's dependence on him for ratings. But given how the Tour unfolded, it's possible we have seen the last of the Lance/JB formula for victory for a while. Thank god.

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First off, I don't come here to bash Lance as a person. There's pretty good consensus that Floyd has a better personality than Lance, but I don't want to get too caught up in the Lance-is-a-jerk business. Yes, he's a serious type A but it's possible that in less public ways he's really not a jerk -- I for one don't know him. And even if he is, his contributions on the road to the Sport, to US Cycling, etc. are something every American Cyclist has to appreciate on some level, possibly a lot. He's also raised billions for cancer. Anyway, I come here not to bury Lance himself, but his race tactics.

Even there, I don't begrudge him his success, but by year 3 or so, Lance's means of controlling the Tour made the race pretty dull save for few stretches where he went on the attack. To review (as if we need to), Lance won the Tour by crushing people in two spots: time trials, and penultimate climbs. Lance possessed the ability to practically sprint up one mountain a day without ruining his chances the next day. By keeping things together to the last climb and then flying away at an unmatchable speed, he virtually assured himself of victory in the mountains. At worst, he would be tied for first on the climbs and salt it away in the ITTs.

Once he established this tactic, he then built a team that absolutely clamped down on the peloton prior to the final climb. What few early attacks were tried quickly got shut down. Stage after mountain stage, the Postal/Disco boys delivered Lance to his jumping off point... with breathtaking monotony.

Floyd Landis' epic escape on stage 17 this year not only established his greatness and marked an entry in the all-time Tour stage wins, it also went a long way toward reminding us how much fun it is to have mountain stages contested before the final climb, like the old days. The good news is that there is no dominant team who can keep the clamps on the peloton right now, and hopefully won't be for a while. And even if there were, it's not clear there's a single rider who you'd want to race this way for. Imagine T-Mob protecting Kloden all day prior to the Joux-Plane, only to see him dropped by Sastre on the climb? Not going to happen, at least not more than once. So, welcome fun back to the Tour!

Incidentally, although it's simple to see why Lance wouldn't risk long attacks when the short, late one was so effective, it's not clear that long attacks were such a risk. Given his time trialing, he was probably well suited to pull a Landis himself, if he'd felt inclined. [Actually, FWIW his Worlds win pretty much was such a feat.] The only real disincentive is the threat of a jour sans, and Lance lived and raced in fear of emptying the tank for the next day. Anyway, it would've been nice to see him try, even if I can understand why he never did.