By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong’s broken right collarbone won’t keep him out of the Tour de France, but being competitive in time for the May 9 start of the Giro d’Italia remains a major question mark.
Whether Armstrong can recover in time to start July’s Tour is not a major concern for Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel, but he’s not so sure about the Giro with the start in Venice just six weeks away.
“This has no impact on the Tour at all. I don’t think this changes anything for the Tour de France,” Bruyneel said Tuesday. “It’s too early to say about the Giro. Being at the start of the Giro isn’t a problem, but he has to have a decent level to be competitive. We may have to change our focus and try to do the Giro with another mentality.”
The 37-year-old’s comeback campaign was thrown into turmoil when he broke his right collarbone in a pileup about 15km from the finish line in Monday’s first stage in the five-day race across northern Spain.
The Belgian sport director — speaking to journalists before the start of Tuesday’s individual time trial stage in Palencia — said he’s confident Armstrong will be back in fighting shape to make a run at winning an eighth Tour crown.
“A broken collarbone in the month of March does not at all compromise the start of the Tour de France or your performance in the Tour de France, that’s not a problem,” Bruyneel said.
The crash throws a planned debut at the Giro d’Italia into doubt.
A broken collarbone usually takes a cyclist out of competition between four to six weeks, depending on the severity of the injury.
Bruyneel said it’s too early to say whether or not Armstrong will race in the Giro or perhaps compete in other races, such as the Volta a Catalunya in May or the Dauphiné Libéré and Tour de Suisse in June.
Bruyneel said Armstrong’s break was “clean,” meaning there were not multiple fractures or damage to surrounding ligaments and muscle tissue.
Armstrong will consult with physicians before making readjustments in his training and racing schedule once he returns to the United States on Tuesday.
“He’ll go and see a specialist in Austin as soon as possible. Then we’ll see what the verdict is,” he said. “I would say at first it’s not a complicated fracture, which is good. There’s no displacement or anything complicated, now the question is whether there will be a surgery or not.”
Armstrong slept at Bruyneel’s Madrid home on Monday evening before boarding a flight back to Texas on Tuesday and Bruyneel said Armstrong was dejected after crashing.
“He was very disappointed, spirits were not high yesterday, but that’s logical,” Bruyneel said. “He hit the ground pretty hard with his head first, could have been a lot worse.”
Bruyneel, who added that he underwent two operations to repair broken collarbones during his professional racing career, said that doctors will make a decision in the coming days whether or not Armstrong will be operated on.
“He has to consider himself lucky it’s not worse. Of all the bones in your body, if you had to choose a bone to break, I would choose the collarbone. It’s the one that heels the fastest,” he continued. “It’s not a leg, or a knee or hip, which would be several weeks or months without any competition.”
The five-day Castilla y León race was an important test for Armstrong in his road back to elite competition.
So far, the Texan competed at Tour Down Under in January and the Tour of California in February, primarily to regain contact with the peloton. His first race back in Europe since retiring in 2005 was the one-day classic at Milan-San Remo, when he lost contact with the lead group coming over the Cipressa climb.
“He was feeling pretty good lately,” he said. “Bit by bit, he was getting the good feelings back. It’s good when you’re in good shape when you have an injury. It helps you recover faster. We have to be prudent and see what the outcome is going to be. I am not overly worried.”
Bruyneel said he was “shocked” to see Armstrong hit the deck Monday. Armstrong has crashed occasionally throughout his racing career, but this is the first time he’s abandoned a race with a broken bone.
“He’s never broken anything. He doesn’t know what it is to break a bone and be out of it for awhile,” he said. “I had a lot of broken bones and fractures. It’s not such a catastrophe, if you know it’s going to heal properly.”
And finally, there were questions about whether Armstrong had lost his edge since retiring in 2005 and whether he had more fear in the bunch than he did during his prime.
“I think every cyclist who is a bit more of age starts to be more careful, that’s common. Everybody starts to take less risk and see more danger and try to avoid it at all costs,” Bruyneel said.
“Definitely nothing has changed in his riding style or the way of reacting. You try to stay away from the danger. Yesterday that was impossible, if it’s a narrow road and if three or four riders crash in front of you.”