Will Lance Armstrong win the 2009 Tour de France? Probably not. He’s 37 years old and out of the sport for four years, and there is lots of young talent that has come along since his last tour. He’s not even the team leader of his own team, Astana; that would be Alberto Contador, a talented young Spaniard who won the Tour in 2007, and most likely would have won again last year if Astana hadn’t been banned. So he went to Spain and Italy and won their tours. It is arguable that Lance isn’t even the second best rider on his own team, if you think as highly as I do of American Levi Leipheimer.
So the Lance Armstrong comeback was a feel-good story, he’s riding for cancer and not getting paid, but it was good to see him in a Tour again on Saturday’s opening time trial. He finished a respectable tenth place and looked in good form, but Contador was second, and three other Astana riders came in ahead of Lance, so there it is.
But wait! In today’s stage, a flat ride along the Mediterranean, things suddenly got exciting. These early flat stages are showcases for the sprinters, and unless you get a successful breakaway (hard to do) they unfold pretty much according to script. But in the high winds of today’s stage the talent-rich Columbia team managed to send several riders ahead at a bend in the road and open up a gap. Fabian Cancellara, wearing the Yellow jersey, alertly made the jump, along with a number of other riders, and, yes, Lance Armstrong, reminding us that Lance wasn’t just the strongest rider in his day, but one of the smartest.
This twenty-seven man break swallowed up an earlier four man break, and off they went. The remaining peloton, full of GC (general classification, the team leaders) rivals, was caught napping and never got itself organized to catch the break. Lance had two teammates with him, domestiques Heimar Zubeldia and Yaroslav Popovych (but not Contador), and they all worked with Team Columbia and others to keep the main pack at bay. At the end of the day Columbia’s rocket Mark Cavendish won the stage as expected, but the break group had put forty seconds into the main pack.
Lance is still 40 seconds behind Cancellara, but is now in third place overall, and with the team time trial tomorrow, and a strong Astana team, could find himself in the yellow jersey tomorrow. And as pundit Bob Barsanti just wrote on my Facebook wall, “Wouldn’t that just be a floater in the Beaujolais!’