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Nine Pistons: Stage 4 – 24.2-mile, Team Time Trial, 2009 Tour de France, July 7, 2009

Written by  D. Brian Smith

Early on in Team Astana’s race against the clock in the stage 4 Team Time Trial, all eighteen legs are fresh and cranking forth in syncopated rhythm (photo courtesy of LiveStrong.com).

Cascading along resplendent roads in Montpellier, France in 80-degree Fahrenheit heat, nine distinct pistons to a team clad in Lycra on ultra-lightweight, aerodynamic time trial bikes, weaving along the landscape, each teammate exchanged the lead position over and over and over again in a syncopated rhythm that no internal combustion engine could duplicate. More marvel than machines these super human athletes, with their shoes clipped securely to the pedals, took on the course at evenly spaced intervals throughout the summer day. Full aero race helmets, skintight clothing and riding in wind tunnel optimized aero race posture; human arrows flew along the course. Some teams lost several riders in harrowing crashes along the roadside. If the team member wasn’t an essential element to achieve the fastest possible finish, he was left behind. So long as each team arrives at the finish line with five of the nine members, the team successfully completed the stage for a recorded time.

In an internal combustion engine, the parts are interconnected and interrelated. The better the professional cycling team, the more efficiently and effectively they ride together, though there’s no physical link between each bicycle or each racer. The goal is to follow as close to your teammate’s rear wheel as possible without touching his wheel. Doing so will save you 30-percent of your energy, which enables you to take your turn at the front of the human/mechanical cascade stream of rhythmic energy for your 100-percent wind breaking, piston driving effort that keeps the diagonal, wind-cheating line moving forward at maximum speed, until the next teammate makes his way to the front for more relentless piston driving.

Throughout this process your team director is providing you instantaneous, real-time encouragement in your earpiece and telling you precisely how well your team is riding in relation to the teams that have reached the checkpoints before you. Your brain is processing all of this information at the same time that your cardiovascular and muscular-skeletal system is simultaneously responding to the command signals from your brain stem and reflexes. Your bicycle is a mechanical, wind-cheating two-race-wheeled state-of-the art magic carpet that instantly responds to all of your inputs, be they perfect or disastrous. If you’re not in harmony with the rider in front of you or omnisciently aware of the potential crosswinds at the next corner, you could be taking a spill on the pavement that might also topple everyone behind you, the result of which could mean road rash at the least or broken bones or worse and a possible DNF of the race.

The adrenalin and consequent formation of endorphins in the bloodstream from this form of racing must be unparalleled. Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake; The Tour de France is the most difficult, most perilous, most superhuman feat of multi-day mayhem and athleticism on our planet. If these pro cyclists were racecars, they’d all be Formula 1: Ferraris or McLarens or BMWs or Mercedes. They are the absolute fittest specimens of human athletic performance and endurance in the World.

Of particular note, the team time trial is just one stage of The Tour. There are 20 others that occur along flat country roads and in the French Alps, where even brand new cars at times cannot climb the mountain passes. A total of some 3,500 kilometers or 2,100 miles and change are covered from July 4 through July 26, 2009, in the 21 stages of The 2009 Tour de France. Those bikes aren’t motorized. They’re driven/ridden by human pistons that have no peers in terms of professional endurance athletes. If the amount of endorphins created by these super humans during the three weeks of The Tour could somehow be harnessed, we could reverse the effects of global warming and have enough energy leftover to power the world’s internal combustion machines. Well, at least the high-performance V-8s and V-12s that we all love to see on Redline Review.

If you didn’t watch some of The 2009 Tour de France, make sure you at least catch the team time trial stage in 2010. The term Poetry in Motion doesn’t begin to describe what these cyclists achieve. It’s All About Speed, baby!

The team celebrates in unison at conclusion of the TTT (photo courtesy of LiveStrong.com).

Lance Armstrong looks happy to be out of retirement and back in the mix at the 2009 Tour de France. He wound up finishing third in this hardest of athletic competition events – not bad for the elder statesman of professional cycling (photo courtesy of LiveStrong.com).

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