The Giro hit the mountains today and all eyes were on one rider. I don't think it matters if you were French, Italian or a good ol' American. Everybody wanted to know if Lance 3.0 could climb? If you remember, Lance 3.0 is the comeback Lance. The guy who gave up retired life to ride in rain, wind and snow and fight for position in the pack all while trying not to get knocked down by overzealous racers. Let's face it. Lance has enough money so I am pretty certain he isn't trying to get free travel and hotels by being part of a professional cycling team.
But, I digress, though Lance 3.0's motivation to return to the top level of pro racing is always a great topic for discussion. The fourth stage of the Giro was a warm-up of sorts in the Dolomites. The first major climb, the Croce d'Aune, came too far from the finish to be decisive and the final climb to the enchanting town of San Martino di Castrozza was not really long or steep enough to really answer any questions. To be sure, by the stage finish the contenders had been separated from the pretenders, but there were definitely a lot of contenders when the lead group went under the red kite with a kilometer to go.
Lance was in that group, but a sharp acceleration by riders looking for the stage win gapped him and put the Texan about 15 seconds back at the line. It might be worrying that Armstrong wasn't able to respond to the late surge by eventual stage winner Danilo Di Luca, but again, this wasn't a really decisive climb and anything can happen when 40+ riders contest a supposed mountain-top finish.
Wednesday's stage, which ends in a massive 5000' climb to the ski station at Alpe di Siusi, will provide a more valid answer to Lance's climbing form. Well, sort of. You must remember that Armstrong is still recovering from his broken collarbone. If Lance gets dropped then it can be speculated that he is still gaining the form he needs to be a factor at the Tour. If Lance is with the lead group in the final kilometer, then we will know that he can be counted on to help his teammate, Levi Leipheimer, in Levi's quest to win the Giro.
That sounds a bit slushy. Will we really learn anything from how Lance climbs towards Alpe di Siusi? Lance will certainly learn something and that is confidence. You need confidence to be able to climb well. Lance had it in spades during his reign at the Tour. Does he have it now or is he just bluffing.
Personally, I would like to have seen Lance up closer to the front of the group, where Levi was riding, during the final climb. That makes me think that he will not be in the lead group at the finish on Wednesday. But, what I saw a few days earlier is even more important, IMHO. What I saw before, during and after the team time trial is how much Lance seems to be enjoying being back in a grand tour. He looks reasonably fit, but more importantly really motivated to ride at his limit and be a factor at the Giro.
With two months to go before the Tour, I think Armstrong's motivation is more important than fitness. In the days before his collarbone accident, I thought I detected a loss of enthusiasm at the task ahead, that being riding both the Giro and the Tour. His collarbone injury could easily have put the nail in the coffin of his comeback. To see him energized and ready to suffer says to me that his comeback is back on track.