By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong just wants everyone to calm down.
Some over-eager fans and media accustomed to watching Armstrong crush the climbs were dismayed Wednesday at the sight of him being dropped on the 24.9km summit finish to Alpe di Suisi, but on the day after, Armstrong was keen to put things in context.
“People have to step back and realize that not every race is like the Tour de France. I haven’t been at every race in the front,” Armstrong said before Thursday’s start. “During my career, I didn’t win every bike race by seven minutes. It’s important to keep it in perspective.”
All eyes were on Armstrong on Wednesday to see how the seven-time Tour champ would fare in his first major mountaintop finish since the Pla d’Adet in the Pyrénées in the 2005 Tour.
Ex-Discovery Channel teammate George Hincapie won the stage and Armstrong finished with Ivan Basso at 5:04 back en route to his record seventh Tour crown.
Flash forward nearly four years later to stage 5 in the 2009 Giro d’Italia, and Armstrong admitted he is not yet in condition to make those kinds of comparisons.
“It was hard, but I cannot expect to be this strong. The crash complicated my preparation for the Giro,” he said. “After the accident, I lost a few weeks, so we are using this race as a buildup for the summer.”
From the beginning of his comeback, Armstrong has insisted that the road to the 2009 Tour de France goes through the Giro.
Breaking his collarbone in a March crash at the Vuelta a Castilla y León further complicated his Giro plans.
Before the stage started, he expected to lose two minutes, so finishing at 2:58 was within what he and the team hoped for.
Some couldn’t forget, however, the images of the Tour de France when Armstrong played the executioner on the steeps of the Pyrénées and the Alps.
“That’s the power of the Tour,” he said. “That’s the one race that everyone understands, that they follow, but people have to remember the 2001 Tour Valencia, when I was seven minutes off the back, or the 2003 Paris-Nice, when I dropped out after one stage. You have to pick your moments. I spent a lot of my career in the back of the bus.”
Armstrong also pointed to how other riders fared, especially a handful of Italians who bet their entire season on being ready for the Giro and who ceded significant time and all but lost their chances for overall victory.
“Guys like Cunego, Bruseghin, Garzelli, guys who came here to win the Giro and – boom – one day it’s all finished for them,” he said. “You have to wonder what they’re thinking.”
Armstrong said he is going to ride to support teammate Levi Leipheimer, who is poised in fourth overall at 43 seconds back.
With no more major summit finishes leading up to the decisive Cinque Terre time trial in stage 12, the team will ride to protect the flanks of the three-time Tour of California champ.
“If I’m one of the favorites, I’d be trying to get some time (on Leipheimer) before the time trial,” Armstrong said. “Perhaps they should have tried more yesterday.”
With Leipheimer looking good, Armstrong said that he might forfeit his hopes of winning a stage to play the role as super domestique.
“It depends on how Levi is riding,” he concluded. “My ambitions might have to be put aside if he’s riding for the maglia rosa.”