Lance Armstrong reflects on the 2009 season, and takes a different approach to the 2010 Tour de France
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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Armstrong reflects on 2009, takes different approach to Tour

by VeloNation Press at 7:48 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 

Acknowledging that his form was not good enough to win this year’s Tour de France, Lance Armstrong has said that he is planning a different route towards the 2010 race with his new RadioShack team. Hitting the start of the season in better form and avoiding additional commitments are, he feels, two things which could make up the difference between third place and the yellow jersey.

"We did a lot. Too much. No regrets, no regrets, but we will not do that in 2010,” he told the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. “Looking back, going from Australia to Ireland, many stops, races, fundraising and meetings for LIVESTRONG, working alongside the bike, the crash, baby Max, the Tour ... a lot of stuff.

"It was important for the Foundation that I put in a lot of personal time. Conversations with leading politicians…every day I was working on it. In that area I exceeded all expectations. “

As important as that was for the LIVESTRONG Foundation, he implied it cannot be sustained this coming year if he is to have a chance of winning the Tour again. Things will go back to the way they were before his retirement.

"In 2009, the balance between races and LIVESTRONG was fifty-fifty. In 2010 I will return to a traditional program. I'm more a cyclist. I fall back into my good habits. The exception is the Tour Down Under [he used to not do this in the past]. There is the Tour of California in May, but in previous times we did not do much during this period. I do roughly the same as in my first comeback. The Dauphiné Libéré as a precursor to the Tour.”

Racing programme aside, there is something else that should help him. When he announced his comeback in September 2008, he was carrying a lot of extra weight. Most of it was muscle he had built up, and that had to be stripped off. Now, however, he’s got more of a cyclist’s build again.

“I trained [only] for the Chicago Marathon. I was really fat,” he said. “I was training for months, but I did not expect that I would race [professionally] again. Suddenly I decided to be a rider again. Even Eddy Merckx was very skeptical. He did not expect me in the first ten in Paris. After he was pleasantly surprised.

"I lost seven kilograms. In the winter I was heavy, but I had no high fat percentage. Muscles are hard to lose. The Giro suited me. There my body changed, the Giro ensured I had a competitive weight. In the Tour, I was lighter than ever. Too light, according to Johan Bruyneel. These are things that happen when you're four years away from the cycling scene. Many things change. The other things change you. That makes it so nice to have a new season in which everything is much more conventional. "

When Armstrong started racing in the Tour Down Under, he was at a good level of fitness. His Milan San Remo performance was disappointing, however, and then he had the first bad racing crash of his career on the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. Looking back, he says that was the toughest part of his season. The comeback could have stopped there, but Johan Bruyneel insisted otherwise.

“The low point was the broken collarbone in the Vuelta a Castilla y León. It was a particularly hard moment. No, a hard period. I was set back by weeks, and the comeback was [already] far harder than I ever expected. The rhythm of the races, the nervousness ... I was very scared. I never had that before. Okay, the Tour of Flanders and the Amstel Gold Race always instill terror into every rider, but I had that everywhere. The Giro changed everything for me. A very crazy race. I thought if I finish this, then I can finish anywhere.”

At one point, he was close to calling it quits. “Soon after the crash, I saw myself not continuing. Johan Bruyneel called constantly to check how I was. For a week I refused all contact. Johan was furious. He sent me a message: ‘pick up your damn phone!’ I thought, maybe it is time now to say, my comeback was a very bad idea. He left me no choice, however. No way.

“I did have mixed feelings. After the crash I could say: listen, I don’t need to take these risks any more. After the operation that shot through my head. Nothing serious had ever happened to me on the bike. And then, suddenly, aaghh - terrible. Some guys like my team-mate Chris Horner, have that [bad crashes] each year. John did not allow me to use this as an excuse, however. He was firm about that. He has always been a strong force in my life.”

Fortunately, he had a boost before the Tour. His form was improving thanks to the Giro and, thanks to the birth of his son Max, his morale went up. He describes that as the high point of 2009, saying that conceiving naturally is a good sign for the entire cancer community. Armstrong had been sterile for more than ten years due to the chemotherapy he received in 1996, but his body had recovered to the point where he could once again have children without medical intervention.

Motivation boosted by that, he went to France for the biggest appointment of his comeback.
 

Racing the Tour:

Armstrong was unbeaten in the race between 1999 and 2005, taking the winning record to seven wins and thus besting the five-time champions Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernhard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Unlike Armstrong, those riders each suffered defeat at the Tour at the end of their careers; he went out on top, though, and clearly wasn’t planning on being beaten in July.

However, the opening time trial in Monaco showed that things might not go to plan; finishing tenth there and conceding 40 seconds to Fabian Cancellara indicated that he was not as strong against the clock as before. More seriously, he lost 22” to Alberto Contador, who was second.

As the race continued, there were several occasions when his body could not do what his mind commanded. “In the Tour I had many such moments,” he admits. “In the Giro, too. The stage to Blockhaus, all the time trials of the Tour. The trip to Verbier. It was not just one rider who rode away from me…it was several, maybe ten. "

Asked by Het Nieuwsblad’s interviewer if he wished then he had stayed on the beach, he dismisses this notion. “No, no, no. [I had to] continue,” he answered. “As hard as I could. I said to myself: Lance, you can not go any faster. This is your level. Verbier was a bad day, I was only in ninth. The biggest problem was situated in Pontarlier the day before when George Hincapie just missed out on yellow. That was stressful. George thought that we had ridden against him, which we did not. The American TV stations jumped on it. It was a mess. George wanted to speak to none of us…for weeks. He was the man who had stood by my side seven times. It is now settled...fortunately.”

“Other things happened, without which I could have been second. I made mistakes in the mountain stage to Le Grand Bornand. I should never have let them get away, but was stuck back there alone. The Schleck brothers just kept attacking. I was worried about going to deep, such as Verbier. I was trapped, with Wiggins and Vandevelde. Up front, I had two teammates, Contador and Klöden. I could not do anything. They took thirty seconds, one minute, one and a half minutes.

“Before the Tour I thought I could win. Even during the Tour. I got some time on the stage to La Grande-Motte, in the team time trial. But I was never close to overall victory. Then you cannot be unhappy. Contador was the deserved winner this year.”

If the Spaniard is at the same level in 2010, it will be very tough to beat him. He concedes as much. “It would be very difficult [to win]. I should be better than in 2009. I will be better…for sure. I have adapted again to being a cyclist. That is progress. But he (Contador) will be very hard to beat. Like Andy Schleck. He is a very good rider, perhaps the best we have ever seen. On Verbier he averaged 1850 meters per hour [of vertical climbing speed]. It is a short steep climb, perfect Swiss asphalt, but still. It is an incredible achievement.”

But he’s determined to step up a level and take the fight to his big rival. On the day of the interview, Armstrong did an hour of yoga and six and a half hours training. It’s a huge amount of exercise for that time of the year, and shows that he is determined to be stronger in 2010.

“I am completely f**ked,” he conceded. “I did 4000 metres of climbing today. We went up to 1500 meters altitude. I never worked so hard at this time of the year, but I was younger then. I can no longer just rest. I never went without training this winter. I kept going….in the gym, walking, hiking, yoga, mountain bike. I think I am a better person if I sweat a bit every day.”

"In the time of Ullrich, things were different. But they are two different people. Alberto is a hard worker, and he has more talent than Ullrich. The only variable is the tactic. With RadioShack we have a very balanced team, with the smartest man in the car. That is our trump card. We share the leadership, but at the end of the day, Bruyneel is in control. Sure. Johan is a good listener, but he has the last word. He's the boss. "

In just over two weeks’ time Armstrong will line out in the Tour Down Under in the RadioShack team debut, his first race of the 2010 season. That marked his comeback twelve months previously, and his sensations this time round will give him good feedback as to whether or not he has stepped up his game. Of course, he doesn’t have to hit top form for several months yet, but feeling strong in Australia will boost his morale in advance of what is a crucially important Tour campaign.

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