Lance Armstrong admitted on Monday he still lacked the “magic ratio” to leave riders trailing after failing to convert a promising breakaway in the Tour Down Under’s build-up race.
Armstrong said he needed extra strength and less weight after his attack, alongside fellow Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro, was snuffed out with three laps to go.
“If I were a little lighter … then we would have a different conversation. Ultimately you have to be as strong as possible and as light as possible,” he said. “I might be stronger than I was last year and a little bit lighter, but that doesn’t equal that magic ratio of being able to ride away.”
Sunday’s one-hour Adelaide street race kicked off the second season of Armstrong’s comeback as he aims for an eighth Tour de France title and at becoming its oldest winner at 38.
The American, who won consecutive Tours de France from 1999 to 2005 and placed third after returning from retirement last year, looked surprisingly strong in the event which was won by Team Sky’s Greg Henderson.
Armstrong has played down his chances of victory in this week’s Tour Down Under, raced over six relatively short, flat stages which favour sprint specialists.
“I was suffering, as I think everybody else was,” he said. “I think the other guys in the group thought that in general it was a faster race than last year’s race. I think the wind made it technically a little bit tricky.”
Armstrong also reflected on his brush with life-threatening testicular cancer as he put the name of his Livestrong charity to a new research centre at Adelaide’s Flinders Medical Centre.
“It puts all the other stuff that we do on the bike in perspective. For me personally, if you don’t make it through a centre like this you’re not here,” he said.
“I’m not here, I’m not winning a tour or seven tours, or coming to the Tour Down Under or standing over there talking. It’s first things first, for sure.”
The Tour Down Under, the southern hemisphere’s biggest race contested over 800 kilometres (500 miles) of Australian countryside, starts on Tuesday.
Armstrong says he’d sacrifice Tour record for team
Lance armstrong in action during the cancer council classic: lance armstrong in action during the cancer council classicAFP/Getty Images
Lance Armstrong rides during the Cancer Council Classic
Lance Armstrong Saturday insisted he’d sacrifice an astonishing Tour de France comeback win for his team, hitting back at rival Alberto Contador who said he lacked support in last year’s race.
The seven-time winner, who finished third behind Astana team-mate Contador in July, said he had a better chance of victory this year – but would pass up the chance to become the Tour’s oldest champion if instructed by his coach.
“We’ll be in the same position where we have three strong guys in the Tour,” Armstrong, 38, told reporters ahead of the Tour Down Under. “Sure I’d love to win another one. But if somebody else is in a better position to win, then we have to support him.”
Spain’s Contador has voiced anger about internal tensions at Astana, claiming the team failed to gel behind him as it wrestled to accommodate cycling’s two biggest stars.
“With the precious help of a few people, I resisted the pressure,” he told RIDE Cycling Review magazine.
Ex-Astana director Johan Bruyneel, who has moved with Armstrong to the new Team RadioShack, said he was “frustrated” by the comments, maintaining Contador became the team’s focus as soon as it was clear he was the strongest rider.
“I think 2009 was a clear example of a team working as a team no matter who they had to work for,” Bruyneel said. “I’m a bit frustrated about the comments that he didn’t have any help. That was absolutely not the case.”
Armstrong and Contador have been involved in a bitter verbal war since the race, prompting the American to describe this year’s showdown as “Ali-Frazier”.
Contador, a two-time Tour winner who is tipped to challenge Armstrong’s record seven titles, has called their relationship “non-existent” and describes Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck as his “authentic rival”.
But Armstrong warned that he expects an improved performance in France this year as he returns to peak form and slims down charity work in the second season of his comeback.
“I don’t want to say I’m going to win an eighth Tour, but I will tell you that I expect to be better than 2009. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could do it,” he said.
The Texan, who turns 39 in December, is bidding to outstrip Belgian Firmin Lambot’s 88-year-old achievement in winning the Tour de France aged 36 years and four months in 1922.
Armstrong, who famously survived testicular cancer to win seven consecutive Tours from 1999 to 2005, has given himself another two seasons to achieve his goal.
The American cut short his three-and-a-half year retirement at last year’s Tour Down Under, placing 29th. On Saturday, he demonstrated his enormous popularity by attracting some 5,000 amateurs to an impromptu ride announced on Twitter.
Contador, 27, is not racing in the season’s curtain-raiser, opting instead to kick off his year at Portugal’s Tour of the Algarve next month.
Armstrong drops personal dope tests
Lance Armstrong Saturday said he had abandoned the rigorous personal doping tests he adopted to silence critics who suspect him of using drugs.
Armstrong said he had proved he was clean by undergoing the tests, alongside routine checks by anti-doping authorities, and posting results online.
“I did 52 controls last year and most of them included blood and urine,” Armstrong said. “There would be no way to get around that unless you’ve got some stuff or voodoo, something – but that’s not an option.”
The seven-time Tour de France winner, 38, embarked on the tests to quell doubters as he came out of a three-and-a-half year retirement to return to racing last year.
But he said cycling’s ‘biological passport’, which logs riders’ test results over time to check for variations, was sophisticated enough to make independent testing pointless.
“The biological passport has got to a point … that it controls all those things that an independent programme would do, which is good news,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s the perfect solution, but it’s the next level when it comes to fighting doping in sport.”
Armstrong has long battled doping allegations, including French sports paper L’Equipe’s 2005 claim that urine samples from 1999 contained banned blood booster EPO.
In 2006, he sued a British newspaper over an article based onLA Confidential – The Secrets of Lance Armstrong a book which contained doping allegations. The case was settled out of court.
Armstrong expressed frustration that some scientists had questioned his personal test results even though he had gone to the trouble of making them freely available on the Internet.
“You’ve got 1,000 scientists looking at it, one of them says ‘this is suspicious’. Of course you’re going to have someone say that,” he said.
“And that’s the story that gets printed. Obviously that’s frustrating for us.”
Evans plays down Tour chances
Cadel evans is playing down his chances at doing well in this year’s tdu: cadel evans is playing down his chances at doing well in this year’s tduAFP/Getty Images
Cadel Evans speaks before the Tour Down Under in Adelaide
Australian world champion Cadel Evans on Sunday played down his chances of a rousing Tour Down Under win and said he was content to play second fiddle to cycling legend Lance Armstrong.
Evans, returning to his home country’s signature race for the first time since 2005, said he did not begrudge Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner, the enormous popularity that has eclipsed his fellow riders here.
“Lance has won seven Tours – I’ve only lost five,” he said.
Evans has kept a low-profile in the race’s build-up compared to Armstrong, who has attracted intense media interest and drew some 5,000 amateur cyclists to an impromptu ride announced on Twitter.
The 32-year-old, who became Australia’s first road cycling world champion in September, said he was focused on bedding in with new team BMC and building towards the Tour de France, where he has frustratingly finished second twice.
“It’s not suited for my capacities here at Tour Down Under,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here and get my season started and get to know my team-mates. That’s probably the most important thing for me.”
Longer-tour specialists Evans and Armstrong have both eased expectations of winning the Australian race, which is held over six relatively short, flat stages and favours sprinters.
But Evans defended the course, saying a tougher layout could scare off top riders looking to ease their way into the season.
“I think part of why the Tour Down Under has been so successful is riders can come here and they can start the year off well. If it was any harder, riders wouldn’t want to come,” he said.
“You would scare away good riders and better teams. They’d become disinterested in the race.”
Race director Mike Turtur also said he had no plans to change the layout of the race, which is held at the height of the Australian summer.
“I’ve got no problem whatsoever that it’s a sprinter-style race… We’re just one of those races that suits a certain type of rider,” he said. “We design the race to suit the teams and the athletic requirements at this time of year,” Turtur added. “I think we’ve got it right.”
Favourite Greipel puts horror smash behind him
Germany’s Andre Greipel on Sunday said he had fully recovered from the horror crash which prevented him from sealing back-to-back Tour Down Under wins last year.
Greipel was out for four months with shoulder reconstruction surgery after the accident, when as defending champion he ploughed into a parked police motorbike on stage three.
“It’s a part of sport. Okay, it was a bit bad luck that a motorbike was standing there,” he said. “But, anyway, I had really good surgery. Everything is fine, I have no pain at all. I don’t think about the crash any more.”
Greipel is many people’s favourite for the sprint-heavy Tour Down Under along with last year’s winner, Australia’s Allan Davis, who was also involved in the dramatic crash.
Davis was floored by Greipel’s bike as it flew back into the peloton, but he remounted and, helped by his Quick Step team-mates, heroically battled back to finish the stage second and ultimately win the race.
He said his colleagues at new team Astana, who include 2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro, would provide equally strong support.
“Without (my team-mates) last year I wouldn’t have been able to win the bike race,” Davis said. “It was huge to get back in the bike race, let alone be up there for the overall win,” he said.
“But Oscar Pereiro, I don’t have to state what he can do. He’s in pretty good shape and I think he’s a key rider for me and the team. I’m definitely on par with the sort of team I had last year with Quick Step.”
Some 130 riders took part in a separate street race around Adelaide on Sunday before starting the six-stage, 800-kilometre (500 miles) Tour Down Under on Tuesday.