On one front, Lance Armstrong deserves huge accolades for going ahead with his racing plans despite a broken shoulder. He’s making the talk-show and publicity rounds, promoting his foundation and the fight against cancer, and generally playing the role of beneficent godfather of the sport, and that’s all good.
On the other hand, you have to wonder if he isn’t about to embarrass himself.
As we’ve been saying since the accident, Lance’s chances of a triumphant Giro d’Italia and even Tour de France are gone. He’s on the far end of “old” for European racing, he has lost the powerful base he built up during the winning Tour years, and he is riding clean of any drug advantage he may have had in the past.
Lance may not even understand, at this point, how outclassed he is. The mind seldom wants to admit what the body already accepts.
While it’s viewed as a little brother to the Tour de France, the Giro is no walk in the park. Its brutal, relentless profile and cutthroat competitiveness are two reasons why no rider has won both in the same season since Marco Pantani in 1998, and only a handful in history have accomplished the feat.
Lance, remember, never even raced the Giro during his heyday, always preferring to “concentrate on” (read “save his energy for”) the Tour. His team leader, Alberto Contador, is skipping the Giro this year to focus on the Tour, despite having won the Giro last year (when he was unfairly banned from the Tour because of team violations the previous season that he had nothing to do with).
So you’ve got the second-toughest race in the season staring you in the face with only one week of racing in a non-Euro-quality event (the Tour of Gila) under your belt. If this were anyone other than Lance, he would not even be in the Giro, for nothing else than the sake of his team’s chances.
To his credit, Lance already is lowering expectations, in interviews admitting he feels “underprepared” and would like to win a stage in the Giro but is basically there to support Levi Leipheimer. If anything, Levi will help Lance win a stage.
A likelier scenario may be a Lance-in-the-pack, hand-waving and crowd-pleasing publicity tour, what might be termed a ceremonial role. And that’s if he finishes the Giro at all.
The primary goal, after all, is for Lance to ride the Tour. He cannot afford a crash or even physical strain from the Giro to endanger his Tour appearance, which involves lots of sponsorship dollars all the way from the race itself to TV and residuals.
Lance won’t be a factor in the race itself. But he has to be present and, hopefully, avoid a DNF in the Tour for his European campaign to be successful.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, as long as it’s understood and clear. It may just be dawning on Lance that 2009 will not be what he envisioned when he made his majestic return public so many months ago. As long as he continues to lower expectations and presents an honest scenario, avoiding grandiose predictions and false hopes, he’ll exit the season the hero that we all remember him as.
From Bicycling magazine, the Giro riders to watch.