By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong clicks into his pedals Saturday for the 100th Milan-San Remo in his first European race since winning the 2005 Tour de France, but even he admits he isn’t expecting to stand on the winner’s podium.
The seven-time Tour champ acknowledges the Italian classic doesn’t suit his style of racing, yet Armstrong is promising to make a strong showing in the 298km race.
“If there are 30 or 40 guys left, I hope that I am there. That shows that my condition is coming along,” Armstrong said during a press conference Friday. “This race was never my strong suit or specialty, but I hope to be somewhat involved.”
Finishing with the first group of favorites into San Remo would be an important milestone for the 37-year-old, who is racing the Italian classic for the first time since 2002.
Armstrong says he’s steadily regaining fitness as he works toward his top season goals of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France later this season.
“I am progressing. Days like tomorrow will tell you things,” he continued. “I don’t want to sound like a complete slacker and say I don’t have a lot of ambition. I want to have a good, safe day. It’s no secret that this race can be dangerous.”
More than 100 journalists and photographers attended a press conference Friday in the basement of the Castello Sforzesco in downtown Milan.
A tan Armstrong looked fit and relaxed as he talked about his upcoming European racing schedule.
After Milan-San Remo, he will race the five-day Vuelta a Castilla y León (March 23-27) and said he’s undecided if he will race the Giro del Trentino (April 22-25) in northern Italy ahead of the Giro.
“We’ll start to see next week racing in Spain. There are two uphill finishes and a longer time trial that will give us an indication,” he said. “I think I am on schedule.”
Armstrong said the history of Milan-San Remo helped him decide to include it as his first European race as part of his comeback effort.
“This race represents a lot of history in cycling, a lot of passion in cycling. As a fan of the sport and a novice historian, it has a certain mystique,” he said. “I wanted to do more classics. I couldn’t do Flanders because of scheduling. I think it’s not a bad race to do for fitness and condition. It’s possible to go out and train 300km, but a day in the race is good for you as well, if you stay out of trouble.”
Armstrong is keenly aware of the potential danger that’s part of Milan-San Remo, especially the hazardous and narrow descents off the three major climbs late in the course at Le Maniè, Cipressa and Poggio.
Armstrong inspected the Maniè climb Friday morning as he drove up from Nice to get a better look at the new and potentially decisive climb added last year.
“Just for safety, I wanted to see it for the run in. I know these climbs are nervous before hand, with 200 guys wanting to all be at one place at one time,” he said. “The turn before it is narrow and it will be a big fight to be at the front. (Maniè) can be a factor in the race. After 300km, anything you’ve done before that will make a difference.”
Armstrong was feeling nostalgic about Milan-San Remo, one of the first major races of his professional career.
“My first Milan-San Remo was in 1993 with Motorola. I remember it well, although I wasn’t much of a factor in the race. We were working for Max Sciandri,” he said. “It’s a consistent race. It comes down to the historic moments that we all know. In all of (Eddy) Merckx’s seven victories, he attacked in nearly the same place.
“No bike race in the world can you say that. This race is very predictable in that way. It’s gotten tougher and faster, maybe even more dangerous, but just starting here in a site like this, it’s almost unmatched in cycling.”
Armstrong at Milan-San RemoArmstrong has raced Milan-San Remo in seven previous occasions.
In his debut in 1993, he rode to a respectable 22nd behind winner Maurizio Fondriest.
The next year, he crossed the line 94th while wearing the world champion’s rainbow jersey. His best result came in 1996 with 11th, just months before he was diagnosed with cancer.
After his cancer comeback, he rode to 117th in 1999, just months before he won the first of seven Tour crowns. His final appearance came in 2002, when was 44th.
• 1993 – 22nd
• 1994 – 94th
• 1995 – 73rd
• 1996 – 11th
• 1999 – 118th
• 2000 – 108th
• 2002 – 44th