Tour win won’t come easy for Armstrong; apologizes to VdV, Sastre
By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong has an eighth Tour de France crown within his sights thanks to Astana’s domination in Tuesday’s team time trial, but he admitted that it won’t be easy.
After barnstorming to seven straight Tour victories before retiring in 2005, Armstrong acknowledged Tuesday that trying to win for an unprecedented eighth time is more difficult than he expected.
“This is not easy. It will not be easy to win if I’m lucky enough to win again,” he said. “Twelve months ago, I expected to be here. Six months ago, I didn’t. Today, I’m realistic, I’ve got both feet on the ground. I’m not going to be last, but it won’t be like 2004, 2005 or 2001. It’s going to be a lot harder than I expected.”
On Tuesday, Armstrong came within a fraction of a second of reclaiming the yellow jersey, which he wore for the last time on the Champs-Elysées after winning his seventh title in 2005.
Last fall, he stunned fans worldwide when he announced his intention of returning to the Tour and winning again. Despite not racing for nearly four years, Armstrong said he thought he could quickly regain his winning touch.
Then came the harsh reality of training and racing again, followed by a setback of a broken clavicle in March at the Vuelta a Castilla y León, his first major broken bone of his career. That delayed his training and he raced the Giro d’Italia in May mainly as preparation, riding to 12th overall.
“Here’s a confession: I expected it to be easier,” he said. “I expected it (12 months ago). Six months ago, I did not expect it. I realized – oh shit – this is harder than I thought. That’s the truth.”
A humbled Armstrong also took the opportunity to publicly apologize to riders he slighted in an interview published in John Wilcockson’s new Armstrong biography, calling last year’s Tour “a joke.”
“The Tour was a bit of a joke this year,” Armstrong told Wilcockson. “I’ve got nothing against Sastre or Christian Vande Velde. Christian’s a nice guy, but finishing fifth in the Tour de France? Come on.”
On Tuesday, Armstrong said he regretted those comments.
“As reported in the press, I was disrespectful, to Carlos Sastre, to Christian Vande Velde, to the guys who were a pressure in last year’s Tour,” he said. “And that was not correct.”
Armstrong was clear about something else, he’s riding to win this Tour, but said there’s room for both he and teammate Alberto Contador until things become sorted out in the mountains.
“There are two ways to define leader within this team – you can be strongest, or you can be leader because you have experience, age, the trust of the other riders. That might be my role,” he said. “I said to Alberto, let’s ride perfect and make this race almost impossible to win for others. I think we can say we accomplished that today.”
The pair is separated by 19 seconds in GC, with a total of six Astana riders hogging the top-11. A clash for the yellow jersey and outright team leadership seems fated in the Pyrénées, but both Contador and Armstrong will ride as leaders into Friday’s key stage at Arcalis.
“After that day it becomes a different situation. We’ll have to talk,” he said. “But we both go in protected and see what happens at the top of Arcalis.”
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