Inside Cycling – Armstrong racing on familiar ground

As the 92nd Giro d’Italia heads into its second week, Lance Armstrong will find himself racing on terrain he knows very well, even though this is the first time he has raced the Italian grand tour. The Texan is still in training mode at the Giro, but knowing many of the road he’ll be racing on through Wednesday should help him in his quest to bid for a stage win later in the race — perhaps as early as next Thursday’s 60.6km time trial along the Cinque Terre coast. The connections with Armstrong are intense and frequent over the next five stages of the Giro.

By John Wilcockson

Armstrong at the start of Friday's stage.

Armstrong at the start of Friday’s stage.

Photo: Andrew Hood

As the 92nd Giro d’Italia heads into its second week, Lance Armstrong will find himself racing on terrain he knows very well, even though this is the first time he has raced the Italian grand tour. The Texan is still in training mode at the Giro, but knowing many of the road he’ll be racing on through Wednesday should help him in his quest to bid for a stage win later in the race — perhaps as early as next Thursday’s 60.6km time trial along the Cinque Terre coast.

The connections with Armstrong are intense and frequent over the next five stages of the Giro.

On Friday, the 244km stage 7 between Innsbruck in Austria and Chiavenna in Italy passes through St. Moritz — the Swiss ski resort where Armstrong carried out his high-altitude training prior to each of his seven Tour de France victories. This Giro stage won’t take in any of the high mountain passes that border the beautiful Engadine valley where St. Moritz sits; instead, it ascends gradually for 200km to the tony ski resort before heading downhill for the last 35km — it will be rapid like the finale into Mayrhofen on Thursday but this time the finish favors the sprinters. Columbia-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish may well get the stage win he missed out on earlier in the week.

On Saturday, the 209km stage 8 from Morbegno to Bergamo traverses the Lake Como region where Armstrong lived and trained for four seasons when he was a member of the Motorola team in the mid-1990s. The stage route skirts the northeastern shore of the lake before heading over the mountains to Bergamo — where Armstrong won the Settimana Bergamasca as an amateur racer with U.S. national team in 1991.

Sunday’s stage 9 is a circuit race in the streets of Milan, where Armstrong has often started the opening spring classic that ends in San Remo — while next Wednesday’s stage 11 covers the middle section of the Milan-San Remo course, crossing the Turchino Pass just prior to the finish on the Mediterranean coast at Arenzano.

In between those two stages comes a rest day on Monday followed by the Giro’s longest day, the 262km stage 10 from Cuneo to Pinerolo. This is again familiar territory for Armstrong because this marathon alpine stage goes over the infamous climb at Sestriere, the highest point of the Giro (at 6676 feet above sea level), where the American wore the Tour’s yellow jersey to his famous mountaintop stage victory in 1999.

Don’t expect Armstrong to win any of these five upcoming stages, but should his form continue to improve then he will definitely have a strong chance of rivaling this Giro’s top time trialists next Thursday. His Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer may well win this challenging stage between the tourist towns of Sestri Levante and Riomaggiore, but Armstrong needs to shoot for a podium spot in this Cinque Terre TT because it’s likely to be his only start in a hilly time trial before the opening stage of the 2009 Tour in Monaco on July 4.