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Armstrong sees others do better

Lance Armstrong never came to the Tour Down Under to win it. He came to test his racing mettle and discover what rhythms in his body have changed after being away from road race competition for almost three years.

Before Friday’s fourth stage, one that rolled through South Australia’s well-regarded wine country in the Barossa Valley, Armstrong said he harbored no hidden agenda, had no plan to bust out some hidden moves and jump to the front of the peloton.

“I don’t think I’m going to win,” he said and then ticked off the names of several riders in front of him, several of them Australians, who he suspected had come in with better winning form.

Three of those Aussies -- overall leader Allan Davis, Graeme Brown and Stuart O’Grady -- finished first, second and fourth in Friday’s windy stage, with Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas in third. Davis held on to the leader’s ocher jersey but O’Grady, the superior climber, has set himself up for the ultimate title.

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Saturday’s penultimate stage holds the race’s biggest climbs, twice over Willunga Hill.

For Armstrong, it will just be another phase of finding himself. His Astana team director, Johan Bruyneel, said Armstrong, who finished 38th overall and 47th on Friday’s stage, needs to learn how to race again.

“Lance attacked the other day and said he felt great doing it,” Bruyneel said. “But it was the feeling 10 minutes later that was different. He didn’t feel so good 10 minutes later.”

Armstrong said after Friday’s stage that he understood his comeback was a gradual process.

“This is the first race back after a long time off,” he said. “I would be fooling myself if I thought I was going to pound people. In some ways it’s been harder than I expected, but I think everyone in the race feels that way.”

Bruyneel suggested it wouldn’t have been a good thing for cycling if Armstrong returned immediately to his dominant ways. “There are other great athletes in the sport,” he said. “For a 37-year-old to just come back and win, what would that say?”

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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