Armstrong’s tack has changed, but not his tenacity
ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — In this port city still giddy over success in soccer’s World Cup quarterfinals, Lance Armstrong spent Friday morning scouting the short, flat course that begins the Tour de France, then visited cancer patients at a hospital in the afternoon.
Today’s prologue is a snappy, 51⁄ 2-mile sprint through the heart of Rotterdam over wide roads, to and from the river Nieuwe Maas, and over three bridges, including the half-mile Erasmus Bridge. This is a late-day, chase event, with the first rider off at 4:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m. Central). Riders start on one-minute intervals. Armstrong starts at 12:30 p.m. Central.
There are 198 riders on 22 teams. The rider with the fastest time will start the first stage Sunday in the yellow jersey, which signifies the overall race leader.
The results of these opening events have never decided the outcome of the three-week Tour. Yet, for Armstrong, what happens today may foreshadow where he will be standing in Paris when the race ends July 25.
Armstrong is in the second year of his comeback, and his ability to dominate a time trial, which used to be as predictable as the brutal summer sunshine, has not entirely returned from retirement with him.
Continued from C1 When he was dominating the Tour between 1999 and 2005, he won 11 individual time trials.
“I don’t know if it his age or just (his) time out of competition,” says Chris Carmichael, Armstrong’s personal coach. “I think he is better in this area than last year.”
Another signature attribute that has been eluding his 38-year-old legs: his ability to burst away from competitors in the mountains. The steep-terrain kick that Armstrong applied at crucial points helped secure seven Tour victories.
“It’s not like it used to be, for whatever reason,” Armstrong said in a pre-Tour interview with the Statesman. “I can maintain a high speed. If I’m put on the defensive, I can ride my tempo. Hopefully, that’ll be enough.”
Armstrong cited a combination of factors, including age, mind-set and training, for the elusive after-burners. Age, of course is a leading factor. A year ago, he finished third and became the second-oldest rider in Tour history to reach the in the Pyrenees, approaching a personal best he set in 2005, months before his first retirement.
“He has made significant gains over the last eight weeks,” Carmichael said.
Whether it will be enough to beat defending Tour champion Alberto Contador or last year’s runner-up, Andy Schleck, remains to be seen.
To prepare for this year’s Tour, Armstrong reverted to past training habits. He spent more time in Europe, making Nice, France, his training base. He returned to Austin for brief stretches to visit his family.
A year ago, Armstrong thought he could train at altitude in Colorado to prep for France. But in hindsight, he said, the climbs in the Rockies, while high above sea level, weren’t as severe as what he found in the Pyrenees and Alps.
He’ll have a hint after today’s prologue whether he’ll be a factor in the race.
“I’m getting better,” he said. “Who knows, maybe it’ll all come back.”
Rotterdam, The Netherlands Distance: 8.9 kilometers (5.53 miles) TV: Versus Stage 1: Sunday, Rotterdam to Brussels, 225.3 kilometers (140 miles)
2005 Armstrong won his unprecedented seventh Tour championship — then said goodbye.
1999 Armstrong began his sevenyear hold on the Tour by blistering the field by more than 7 minutes.
2009 Armstrong returned to a third-place finish after three-year Tour hiatus.
2001 It was clear Armstrong would etch his name among
cycling’s all-time greats.
2010 A crash at Tour of California left him bloodied, bruised — but unbowed.