Summer 2003 Forward to a Friend

as a youngster growing up around Dallas. Too young and too small to drive a car, I could still go anywhere I wanted for miles and explore new places on a bicycle. I delighted in the thrill of sharp acceleration downhill, felt the wind in my face, rejoiced at the force on my arms and body from leaning around corners at speed, and thrived on the euphoric sensation that a good workout and honest sweat delivers. I loved riding in the countryside, past fields of bluebells, and smelling the flowers, or the ozone in the air before rain fell. Perhaps the greatest appeal came from exerting control over how fast and where I could go.

Meeting my coach, Chris Carmichael, in 1990, when I had more ambition than skills, started me on the road to success. He helped me realize my dream of winning the Tour de France. Chris, who is wise as a treeful of owls, impressed upon me the value of patience. Popular TV infomercials promise great results with 15-minute workouts just three times a week. In reality, it takes commitment and motivation. Throughout the 1990s, except for the year I took off to recover from cancer, I worked full-time at cycling. Yet I had entered the Tour four times between 1993 and 1996, and finished only once. You could say that it took me a decade to win the 3-week 1999 tour.

Early in my career, many “cycling experts” had typecast me as a 1-day racer. They said I would never win a major multiday race like the Tour de France. My victory supports the belief that anything is possible if you are willing to stick to your dream and keep trying. Realizing a dream, such as mine of winning the Tour, takes patience. Given time and persistent application, we can all improve. That is what Chris told me back in 1990 – and he still tells me that today.

The program that Chris refined with Lance is what led to his astounding victory in the 1999 Tour de France, which reverberated as one of the most dramatic comebacks in sports history. The program focuses on reaching fitness goals by training your physical and mental abilities to their fullest. But physical training can provide only half of what is needed to reach peak fitness. Confidence and commitment provide the remainder of what it will take to make you truly ready for a top performance.

Both Chris and Lance firmly believe that the portable heart rate monitor (HRM) is the most helpful tool that a cyclist can buy to improve the efficiency of his training. Lance is never far from his HRM – he wears it on 90 percent of his rides to continually monitor both his efforts and his recovery. For Lance, wearing an HRM is like having his coach along for every ride.

Lance is diligent about his training log. He and Chris record his heart rate, distance, cadence, and other key data as daily snapshots of his naturally fluctuating training levels. Analyzed over the course of weeks and months, this diary gives him an unsurpassed view of his progress – analysis that would be impossible if he tried to keep every slippery number in his head.

The Carmichael Training System 7-Week Success Plan is designed to help you unlock your cycling potential with three specialized weekly training programs that build on your current fitness level, no matter what it is.

Chris developed this method of training from the experience he gained over 10 years of coaching Lance and hundreds of elite men and women athletes for the Olympic Games, World Championships, and the Tour de France. His philosophy is to train with a particular target in mind over a 7-week period of steadily increasing intensity. He noticed early on that athletes hold their mental and physical focus best if they aim for a specific goal at the end of a relatively short window.

It sounds deceptively simple, but all too often, training programs for competitive cyclists try to address so many different elements that they end up resembling Hungarian goulash. The key to improving a particular cycling skill is to focus on it for a 4-week training block – then move, in sequence, to the next skill, and the next, throughout the course of your training year. This approach, called periodization, was developed for athletes in Eastern Europe during the Cold War years. Periodization puts enough stress on the muscles and supporting tissue involved in each skill to help a cyclist gain specific physiological adaptations. An added benefit – one that’s especially attractive to cyclists with hectic personal and work lives – is that periodization keeps your training program bone simple and easy to follow. Of course, you won’t become a champion climber or sprinter in 4 weeks. But by concentrating your efforts though periodization, you’ll gain the confidence that comes with noticeable, progressive improvements, building on each other both over the course of the season and over the years of your riding.

Once you complete one or more of the Carmichael Training System programs, you may want to further expand your cycling workouts to gain a more powerful pedal stroke, increase your lactate threshold, maximize in-saddle efforts, or develop more cycling-specific strength. With the Carmichael Training System workouts, you have all the tools you need to personalize your own training program and focus your efforts to get the results you want. Remember, don’t add too many new exercises to your workouts too quickly if you are looking to concentrate on certain goals.

Mental toughness stems from the mind and body working together to achieve goals. Everyone who achieves success, whether in cycling or any other pursuit, does so because of commitment and passion. The holistic approach of preparing both the mind and body were key to Lance’s Tour victory, arguably the toughest challenge in the world of sports.

There is no single formula for success in cycling, but there is universal agreement that setting goals is part of any winning formula for achieving success. Before you can chase your desires, you have to figure out exactly what they are and what you need to do to attain them. Is it to ride a century in a certain time? Or to win a local road race? Or is it to lose a certain amount of weight? No matter what the goal, making a plan is a must.

At times, the work involved in fulfilling a goal becomes difficult – the competition seems overwhelming, the weather may be icy and wet, family and work responsibilities increase, or you may crash hard. Your commitment to your goal can keep you hanging in there. Realize that the road to a goal can change. Adapt your training to accommodate life’s pressures, but always stay focused on the goal.

Reprinted from The Lance Armstrong Performance Program, by Lance Armstrong and Chris Carmichael with the permission of the publisher, © 2000 by Lance Armstrong. Published by Rodale (Paperback $15.95). Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit

Editor’s Note: Chris Carmichael was recently inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in Somerville, New Jersey. He was a member of the first American team to ride in the 1986 Tour de France, and was named USA Cycling’s national coaching director for seven straight years from 1990 through 1997.

Also, watch for the new Subaru “wheels off” bike rack attachment available at your Subaru dealership this fall.

This test is for riders of all age groups and levels of fitness. And, best of all, it requires nothing more than a bicycle and a stretch of flat road.

The test is essentially a 3-mile time trial. In other words, you’ll need to ride as hard as you possibly can for 15,840 feet. Time your 3-mile ride to the nearest second. Once you have your time, see what category you fall into, based on your level of cycling.

Less than 10 minutes Beginner to Intermediate
More than 10 minutes Beginner

Less than 8 minutes Intermediate to Advanced
More than 8 minutes Intermediate

Less than 12 minutes Beginner to Intermediate
More than 12 minutes Beginner

Less than 10 minutes Intermediate to Advanced
More than 10 minutes Intermediate

[Detailed training programs for each fitness category are found in The Lance Armstrong Performance Program, by Lance Armstrong and Chris Carmichael]