Cycling is the only team sport in which an individual takes all the glory. It's a delicate balancing job that is especially important in a race as long and demanding as the Tour; the team has to believe in its leader, and the leader has to have complete confidence in his teammates. Lance, more than anyone, has mastered this (to the point that some competitors even accuse him of letting his team win races for him). "It's not just me," he says. "It's an entire team of riders, an entire staff." And so he leads by example, motivating his colleagues by being physically and mentally at his peak for the Tour.
Then there's his ability to tamp down his ego and let Bruyneel take charge. "Johan and Lance have a great relationship," says Vande Velde. "Johan dictates what things are going to happen, and that keeps Lance as a member of the team, not having to yell or apply pressure to the other riders. And that's good for the well-being of the team."
The result has been the famous "Blue Train" performances, when Lance's entire team, with him tucked into the draft, rides for hour after hour at the head of the Tour's 200-strong peloton to contain the opposition and prevent unexpected attacks. Take the toughest day of the 2004 Tour, for example, the stage to Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees. Four hours into it, climbing the steepest hill of the day, the Col d'Agnes, seven of the nine U.S. Postal Team riders were setting an infernal pace, and only 15 of the other 150 competitors had what it took to stay in their company. By the time Lance took over from his last two teammates on the final climb, one rival was left, Ivan Basso. Lance didn't even have to mount an attack.