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By Andrew Hood
There were no pink jerseys for Lance Armstrong, but the seven-time Tour de France champion was content with Astana’s steady third-place performance in Saturday’s team time trial to open the 2009 Giro d’Itali.
The 37-year-old Giro rookie led the squad across the line as Astana stopped the clock in 22 minutes, 3 seconds on the 20.5km course on Lido di Venezia. That was good enough for third behind Columbia-Highroad and Garmin-Slipstream.
“I felt all right for an old man,” Armstrong said. “I think we’re pleased with that, considering the amount of preparation we put into it, which was minimal. I think all and all, we have to be very pleased.”
Armstrong one of the anchors during Astana’s performance in his first grand tour start since retiring after winning a seventh Tour crown in 2005.
Seven of the team’s nine riders finished together, with only Steve Morabito and Andrey Zeits dropping back in the closing kilometers.
“The guys that should have looked good, looked good. Levi, Popo, Horner, myself. We had a good bunch,” he said. “The order was just a random order that Johan picked. The stronger guys pulled longer. Levi, Popo and myself tried to take longer pulls.”
Armstrong – who broke his collarbone in the Vuelta a Castilla y León in Spain on March 23 — said he didn’t feel any pain or discomfort while holding the extended time trial position.
“I always thought that would be the hardest thing to get used to even months afterward,” he said. “The first day that I got on the TT bike a few weeks ago, it wasn’t even an issue.”
Armstrong said it was a special feeling to start the Giro, a race that never fit into his schedule earlier in his career.
“It was a good feeling. It’s nice to be on the starting ramp and nice to be with the guys. I am having fun,” Armstrong said after the stage. “I was having fun in the early season, I was having fun today and we’re going to continue to have fun. It was a win-win for me. We’ll keep it up and see how it goes.”
That fun might be short-lived, as the Giro turns into the mountains early, with back-to-back summit finishes in the Dolomites on Wednesday and Thursday.
Armstrong said he expects some rough going once the Giro turns into the mountains.
“Even if we had the pink jersey, I am not sure we would do the work (to protect the jersey),” he said. “We know that we have a strong team, we have good rider in Levi who can be a contender in the overall. We would conserve our efforts even if we had the jersey.”
Comments on Boonen
Armstrong was also questioned about Tom Boonen, who is back in hot water after traces of cocaine turned up in samples of an out-an-competition control taken weeks after he won his third Paris-Roubaix.
“It’s not a good situation. I feel for him. I know Tom because he was on this team. This is more of a social issue than a sporting issue. We have to address from a social standpoint. It’s a blow for him, a blow for Quick Step, a blow for their sponsors and Belgian cycling. I think that socially we have to address something there, or Tom has to look inside and say, ‘hey, I have an issue and how do I deal with it.’ Tom Boonen isn’t the only guy in the world who has that temptation. I wish him my best and I hope he rights the ship.”