It was hard to tell what pleased Lance Armstrong most following his fourth-place finish in Saturday’s Tour de France prologue. The American was happy about feeling good in a time trial for the first time since his comeback; he was also glad to have kept the bike upright and avoided a crash on the wet, slippery roads.
Armstrong was also proud to have also successfully predicted the day’s top finishers, Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin.
But most of all, Armstrong was thrilled to have finished ahead of all of his GC rivals — among them last year’s winner and Armstrong nemesis Alberto Contador.
Armstrong finished only five seconds ahead of the defending champion, but it’s a victory nonetheless in the psychological war between the former Astana teammates that began in September 2008, when Armstrong first announced his comeback.
“I would like to say (the performance) wasn’t a surprise, but in my heart it was,” Armstrong said. “I’ve been waiting to have a decent time trial. I wasn’t the best today, but among GC rivals … I’d have to say it was the best I’ve done since the comeback.”
And while it’s a long way to Paris, Armstrong also distanced himself from the two men that surrounded him on last year’s general classification, Bradley Wiggins and Andy Schleck. The RadioShack rider finished more than 30 seconds ahead of Wiggins and 47 ahead of Schleck.
“I’m not going to complain,” he said. “If you told me this morning that I could sign up for fourth and put time in all of my rivals, I would have signed with both hands.”
Armstrong described the roads around Rotterdam as “wet and slippery,” and admitted he’d benefited from his late start time.
“Some corners were wet, some were dry,” he said. “I got a bit lucky with the weather.”
Asked about Wiggins’ decision to take an early start in hopes of finishing before the rain, Armstrong said choosing start times based around the weather is a lottery.
“That’s just the way the ball bounces. You’re either the smartest guy in the room or you’re not,” he said. “I went early last year. I bet on the weather. And it’s good to start earlier because you also get home early, eat right away, get a massage and get to bed earlier than your rivals. But no one really picked the weather right today.”
It’s no secret that Armstrong has historically ridden well when angered, and he was no doubt irritated following Saturday’s Wall Street Journal story alleging systematic doping on the U.S. Postal Service team. If he was angry, the Texan maintained a firm poker face, saying, “I felt good today, from when I rode this morning, during my warm-up, into the start and through the finale.”
Asked if he had anything to add to the statement he issued this morning regarding the Wall Street Journal story, he replied: “I have nothing to say — nothing to add. It’s been 10 years (of this); it’s nothing new.”
Prodded to compare his fitness heading into this Tour to that of one year ago, when his season was hampered with a broken collarbone in March, Armstrong said: “I think I’m a little ahead (of last year.) There have been some differences. Last year you had the Giro, then a one-month break, then the Tour. This year I had the crash (at the Amgen Tour of California), but for me, in general, racing in June, closer to the Tour, is a better route. No regrets. I feel good. The testing I’ve done, based both on time and wattages, is where I need to be. Now we just have to see where the others are.”