The most revealing moment of Friday’s pre-race press conference at the Amgen Tour of California in Sacramento came when ESPN.com’s Bonnie Ford asked Lance Armstrong about his condition, one year into his comeback, and for a status report on his emotional drive to reach the top step of the podium of this year’s Tour de France.
Armstrong answered candidly, admitting that his form in 2010 hasn’t been what he’d hoped, and that for the first time in over a decade, he’s had moments of doubt.
“I’m hopeful that it gets better, but I am a rider that a lot of times hasn’t had a lot of doubts, and sometimes there are days I have doubts, to be honest,” he said.
Armstrong earlier told VeloNews about his form thus far in 2010.
“Personally I have struggled a little to find the condition that I’d like,” he said. “There have been moments where I thought it was getting better, but then I’ve had physical or health issues that came along and complicated things. I’d like to think that we’re headed in the right direction now, and this race is an opportunity to test yourself.”
Asked then if he was riding for Leipheimer in California with the expectation that Leipheimer would repay the favor in July, Armstrong said the days that his team leadership at the Tour de France was a foregone conclusion are over.
“There was a time for me when winning the Tour was not a guarantee, but it was as close to a guarantee as we could get,” he said. “But now, there are no guarantees like that. I’m close to 39 and I’m racing guys in their mid-20s. And I also must say, about this current generation of riders, I truly believe they are better than the guys I raced when I was 30. So all the rivals we had in those years, I don’t think they compare to Andy (Schleck) or to (Alberto) Contador or to Frank (Schleck) or to this current crop. So I got hit from both sides, so to speak — I got older, and these guys are better talents, I think. So if I were in that position, I’m sure that Levi, being a loyal teammate, would say ‘well, Lance helped me there, so I’m going to support him in the Tour.’ But first we have to get to the place where I deserve his support for the Tour. And I think at the Tour we have to go with a multi-faceted approach.”
Finally Ford asked Armstrong about his condition one year after his comeback, reminding him that he’d hoped he’d be better with a year of racing in his legs. Armstrong’s answer revealed volumes about the situation the seven-time Tour champion faces as he nears 40 and facing a dominant rider such as Alberto Contador, who has won the last four consecutive grand tours he’s started.
“We’ve had some glimpses, and maybe some false starts, but it has not been as easy or smooth … not that last year was easy or smooth, but this one has been fairly tough. I don’t think we’re pulling the fire alarm, but now is the time where the signs need to start pointing up. We have California, we have whatever race we choose in June, and we have the Tour. And of course the Tour is not one you can come into late, I think, because it’s going to be stressful first week, and a critical first week, where everybody has to be fit and everybody has to be ready. Yet at the same time some would say it’s weighted towards the end with a long TT and the big days in Pyrenees.
“So I’m hopeful that it gets better, but I am a rider that a lot of times hasn’t had a lot of doubts, and sometimes there are days I have doubts, to be honest. Nonetheless I keep plugging way. I train hard. One thing I’ve tried to do is simplify my life. Life is hectic for me now. Between being a professional bike rider, between four kids, with a fifth one on the way, between my commitment to the foundation and all the travel that that entails. At the end of it all, guys in the group, even guys on this stage, say, ‘How do you do that? I just want to throw my legs up at home and not do anything.’ But it’s not something that I can easily do. I’ve tried to cut back as much as I can, and know that we have 50 days until the start of Tour de France, so everything else will have to be put on hold.
“As far as my emotional drive, it’s good. When you have bad days, as we all do, your drive and determination takes a hit. If you asked me what my emotional drive was after the Tour of Flanders, when I thought I did pretty well for an old man, it was high. If you asked me in New Mexico two weeks ago when I was suffering like the proverbial dog (at the SRAM Tour of the Gila), it was low. It’s now coming up. I’ve had a good week of training, I feel healthier than I did then. But there’s no doubt, I still believe I can win the Tour. Everybody might think that’s crazy, but I’m going to do everything I can to get to the start line in the best shape and race heads up in the first week, and then see what happens in the mountains.”
Courtesy Neal Rogers and www.velonews.com