Colorado Springs is a long way from the narrow roads of France, but every July local coach and businessman Chris Carmichael has a front-row seat to the color and pageantry of the Tour de France bicycling race.
Carmichael is Lance Armstrong's personal coach and trainer and has helped guide the fiery Texan to three consecutive Tour de France victories from 1999 to 2001.
Last week, Carmichael traveled to Austin, Texas, to join Armstrong as he begins the six-month quest to be in peak physical form for the July 6 start of the 2002 Tour de France.
The road to Paris starts in Texas.
To win the Tour once is rare, but winning three times puts Armstrong in elite company. Hiss feat is even more remarkable considering doctors gave him a 50-50 chance of surviving testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain in 1996.
Armstrong's coach since the early 1990s, Carmichael was one of the first people Armstrong called when he was diagnosed with cancer in October 1996. Carmichael stayed by Armstrong's bed throughout surgery and painful chemotherapy treatments.
When Armstrong returned to competitive cycling in 1998, he weighed almost 20 pounds lighter than his pre-cancer weight.
This month, Armstrong celebrated the birth of twin daughters while January marks five years of being cancer-free for the 30-year-old.
"Lance is a fierce competitor," Carmichael said. "He got a second lease on life. He's beaten cancer and that really separates him from the field."
Carmichael helped Armstrong develop his trademark pedaling style, allowing him to drop his rivals as he spins his pedals at very high revolutions on the steepest roads in Europe.
Testing Armstrong during last week's training camp in Austin, Carmichael said he's about 5 percent ahead of where he was this time last year.
"I knew last year he was going to be the very best we've seen of Lance," he said. "Can he continue to improve? Yes. If he can return to the level he was last year, he's going to be the man for many years to come."
Key to Armstrong's success is intense focus during his training sessions, which can last up to eight hours and 200 miles.
"He really focuses in every training session. It's that next layer down. He just loves it more. He's faced his own mortality," says Carmichael.
Carmichael communicates almost daily with Armstrong by phone or e-mail and travels frequently to Europe to assist Armstrong during key periods of his pre-Tour preparation.
"Lance has transcended the sport somewhat like Michael Jordan did in basketball. Before, his driving motivation was beating others. Now Lance is really trying to get as close to perfection as possible."
Taking fitness to the people
A former professional and Olympic cyclist, Carmichael became the coach of the U.S. national team and moved to Colorado Springs in 1990. He stayed with the program through the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, but left in 1997 to begin coaching athletes privately, including Armstrong and other top cyclists.
After early success as a private coach -- athletes under his guidance have won 33 Olympic, world championship and Pan-Am Games medals -- Carmichael started a personal coaching business based in Colorado Springs called Carmichael Training Systems.
From a handful of original elite athletes, Carmichael, 41, has quietly grown the business to include 18 full-time employees and a network of 60 coaches to serve more than 700 clients from all walks of life.
While Carmichael stays focused on about a dozen elite athletes, his coaches work with clients ranging from professional athletes to serious runners, triathletes and cyclists to weekend warriors.
"We're bringing top-level coaching to the masses," says CEO Jeff Webster, who left Kellogg's to join CTS in early 2001. "We will be the worldwide leader for coaching in endurance sports."
Coaches work with clients through a combination of telephone and Internet sessions. The company developed a software program to handle all kinds of abilities and skill levels. Entry-level coaching with weekly consultations with a coach start at $79 a month while pro packages with daily consultations and other nutritional and data analysis start at $499 a month.
Tie-ins with the Outdoor Life Network, Rodale Press, cycling camps and Carmichael's association with Armstrong keep Carmichael in the headlines. He's also taking his training methods to more mainstream sports such as auto racing and NHL hockey.
Lance IV and more?
In preparing for the 2002 Tour, the pressure will be on as Armstrong is poised to eclipse three-time Tour winner Greg Lemond as America's most winning cyclist.
"Just to get Lance back to his form from last year will be challenging," Carmichael says.
Four riders have won the Tour five times, but no one's ever popped for six. The question begs, how many can Armstrong win?
"Lance doesn't like to think about things like that. He's taking it one year at a time. He lives for the moment," says Carmichael. "How many times do I think Lance can win? Lance can win the Tour as long as he wants to."
With Carmichael by his side, Armstrong just might be the first to win six. You can follow Armstrong's training program and other top athletes at