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Why Lance Armstrong is plagued by doubt

Text by Emmanuel VERSACE

Latest update : 2009-07-22

Lance Armstrong has never overtly admitted, but often hinted, that his next ambition was to win an eighth yellow jersey on the Tour de France. But after Alberto Contador’s decisive win at the 15th stage, the Texan may have to revise his ambitions.

The much-anticipated return of Lance Armstrong has had its intended effect, in the media and on the public. But when it comes to his chances of actually coming away with the Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey for the eighth time this July 26, they were dramatically reduced last Sunday, somewhere between Pontarlier and Verbier, in the Swiss Alps.  

A decisive 15th-stage win by Contador

The Alps don’t lie, and Lance Armstrong knows it. If he thought luck was on his side at the start of the Tour in Monaco at the beginning of July, Armstrong had to acknowledge that Alberto Contador surpassed him on the ride up to Verbier. “Alberto proved that he was the better cyclist, the better climber,” declared the seven-time winner. “I’ll do my best to be a solid teammate.” This honest recognition of the Texan's own weaknesses says a lot about his disillusionment with the first Alpine stage.

Leipheimer leaves Armstong isolated on the Astana team

The absence of his friend and faithful lieutenant, the American Levi Leipheimer, certainly contributed to isolating Armstrong on the Astana team. Forced to withdraw during the 12th stage due to injury, Leipheimer helped the Texan stay in the breakaway group in the Tour’s third stage, between Marseille and La Grande Motte, allowing him to remain among the overall leaders.

Hampered by age ...

By announcing his return to the Tour de France at the age of 37 (Sept.18, 1971), Armstrong launched not only a comeback but a race against time.

His age, although useful in terms of experience, is a physical handicap. His last victory, in 2005 at the age of 34, was already an impressive exploit that he may not be able to reproduce this time around.

... or a too-lengthy absence?

Absent from the big races for four seasons, in 2009 Armstong has only taken part in the Australian Tour Down Under, the Amgen Tour of California, the Giro d'Italia and the modest Nevada City Classic, which he won. In comparison, Contador won the Algarve Tour and the Basque Country Tour, finished fourth in Paris-Nice, second in Castilla-y-Leon and third in the Dauphine-Libere. Armstrong’s preparation – much talked-about in the media – may not be enough for him to do well in as tough an event as the Tour de France.

Surprises are always possible

But the Tour is known for surprise comebacks of all kinds.  Still six days away from the Tour’s arrival in the French capital, anything is possible. And Armstrong is a champion who is used to pulling something out of the bag.

Date created : 2009-07-21