Lance Armstrong plays down his chances of winning time trial at Tour de France

By Samuel Petrequin, AP
Friday, July 2, 2010

Armstrong wary of first week of Tour de France

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands, — The Tour de France gets under way Saturday and Lance Armstrong says he doesn’t expect to win the 5.5-mile prologue of what will be his last ride in cycling’s premier event.

The short and mainly flat stage through the Dutch port of Rotterdam’s city center doesn’t feature major problems, but Armstrong has recently struggled in the discipline. He used to dominate his rivals in time trials during his heyday.

Last year, his failure in the Annecy time trial hampered his chances in his comeback attempt to win the Tour for the eighth time. Armstrong eventually finished third.

“I’m not going to win on Saturday, I know that,” Armstrong said. “These time trials … I don’t know, it’s just I’ve lost it.”

Armstrong built his seven straight Tour victories with strong displays in the mountains and time trials. But at nearly 39 years old, he lacks explosiveness in the race against the clock.

Armstrong said this Tour is one of the toughest he’ll tackle, with riders going through seven dangerous and treacherous cobblestone sectors in the third stage.

“The first week, we can’t have any mistake,” Armstrong said. “We can’t lose time. I have to get through the first week neutral. There will be people, I think, that will be minutes behind.

“If you consider the first three or four stages in relation to the last four stages, it’s a full race. There is three weeks of real racing. It’s start to finish.”

The Texas has had a complicated season without much time to practice. He was expected to compete in time trials at the Circuit de la Sarthe and at the Tour of California, but had to withdraw because of illness and a crash.

“He did some time trial work, but it has been a catch-up constantly to find a good condition,” said Armstrong’s RadioShack sports director Johan Bruyneel.

Armstrong finished second at the Tour of Switzerland last month following a solid performance in the final stage.

Among the prologue favorites are Olympic time trial champion Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, Bradley Wiggins and David Millar of Britain as well as Tony Martin of Germany.

“For sure, to win this stage is a big goal,” Martin said. “Hopefully, I will be able to achieve this.”

Armstrong’s hopes have been boosted this year because there is only one big time trial scheduled during the three-week race, coming on the eve of the finish on the Champs-Elysees.

The course has 23 mountain passes and favors defending champion Alberto Contador, who is considered the best climber.

Contador says Armstrong can’t be ruled out.

“I think he’s stronger than last year,” the 27-year-old Spaniard said. “There are maybe about 10 to 12 riders with intentions to win the Tour, and Armstrong is among them.”

Contador had a tense relationship with the seven-time champion when they rode together on the Astana team last year.

“He seems very motivated, we’ll have to look out for him,” Contador said.

Contador is aiming to win the Tour for the third time, with help from Alexandre Vinokourov, a Kazakh star who is returning from a two-year doping ban.

“My relations with Vino are excellent, there’s great trust between us, and it’s impossible that something like last year will happen this year,” Contador said.

The race features a daunting last week in the Pyrenees, with four stages in the mountains that form the border of France and Spain. The Tourmalet, one of the toughest climbs in cycling, will be scaled twice.

“The route is better than last year’s because there are more mountains,” Contador said. “And finishing with the Tourmalet is great for me.”

Returning to the Tour after a two-year doping ban, Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso said the cobblestones stage was “a bit frightening.”

“It’s going to be a very difficult stage,” Basso said. “This stage doesn’t suit my skills and I will have to be very relaxed. But we had a stage with the same kind of stress level during the Giro, and I handled it well.”

Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten in Rotterdam contributed to this report.

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