Seven-time winner Lance Armstrong prepares for final challenge
After taking third place last year, 38-year-old US cyclist Lance Armstrong is bracing himself for a last challenge on the Tour despite a crash and more doping allegations against him. It could be his final season as a full-time professional rider.
REUTERS - It has been a rocky road leading to the Tour de France but seven-time winner Lance Armstrong is ready to sign off in style in his beloved race.
The 38-year-old American claimed third place overall in his comeback year in 2009 and he seems ready for a last challenge on the Tour despite a crash and more doping allegations against him.
A man to shine in adversity, cancer survivor Armstrong has had plenty of difficulties this season, possibly his last as a full-time professional rider.
One problem the Texan has had to face is the time spent away from his family. A father of four, soon to be five, Armstrong has been missing his girlfriend and children, trying to see them as often as possible in his busy schedule.
Whether he continues to ride another season is anyone’s guess but Armstrong will not be seen on the French roads in July after this year’s Tour.
“This will be (my) final Tour de France. It’s been a great ride. Looking forward to three great weeks,” he said on Twitter this week.
His long-time friend and mentor Johan Bruyneel said during a disrupted spring that Armstrong needed a training routine and racing days after missing the Milan-San Remo classic and the Circuit de la Sarthe because of stomach upsets.
It all seemed to get better when the American lined up for the Tour of California in May but, on the very day his former U.S. Postal team mate Floyd Landis accused him of doping, Armstrong crashed after a few kilometres of the fifth stage, sustaining an elbow injury and a cut under his left eye.
Armstrong, who came under fire after French daily L’Equipe reported in 2005 that he had used EPO in his first Tour triumph six years earlier, denied the Landis allegations.
“It’s our word against his word. I like our word. We like our credibility. Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago,” Armstrong, who has never tested positive in his career, said at the time.
Often seen as arrogant, Armstrong has softened up since winning his last Tour in 2005. His 2009 campaign, after more than three years in retirement, was a success in terms of image.
Bracelets and T-shirts linked to his Livestrong charity were all over the place on the race and the most successful Tour rider even succeeded in gaining long overdue popularity with the French public.
Armstrong followed up nicely in the Criterium International in Corsica where he got a warm reception from the French crowd.
That, however, was before the Landis allegations. In Luxembourg earlier this month, Armstrong was booed by a spectator who called him a “cheat” and a “liar”.
The American went to a security fence and barked three times at the spectator: “Come and do that to my face.”
Although Bruyneel said Alberto Contador, who was part of last year’s Astana team with Armstrong, was the overwhelming favourite to retain his crown, both the Belgian and the American believe an upset is possible.
“I would not be here in Adelaide if I did not think I could win the Tour de France,” Armstrong told Reuters at the Tour Down Under at the beginning of the season.
“The continuation of my career will depend on my performance on the Tour.”
After the California crash and the Landis saga, Armstrong made up for lost time at the low-key Tour of Luxembourg.
Now his own boss after launching his RadioShack outfit this season, the Texan rode strongly in the duchy, finishing third overall.
Was it enough to give him the appetite for an extra season even without the Tour?
“I have not decided yet. That’s the biggest factor, the time away, but I have not decided yet. As soon as I decide I’m going to say,” he said at the Tour of Luxembourg.
“I have options. It’s full schedule or there’s nothing, full retirement. Or there’s a hybrid: it could be a mix of the two as well.”
No half measures will be allowed on the Tour, however, and Armstrong knows that well.
He stepped up a gear at the Tour of Switzerland, finishing second overall after keeping up with the best in the mountains, a clear indication that he will be fully fit when the Tour starts with an 8.9-km prologue in Rotterdam on Saturday.
“Third in Luxembourg, second in Switzerland, I’ll do the math for the next race,” he said.
“All I have to do now is stay healthy and find that extra one per cent. This race (in Switzerland) attracted all sorts of favourites and it’s a good indication of what’s coming up.”