In only three days, Lance Armstrong (AKA Lance 3.0) will enter his first professional competition since he announced his comeback. Armstrong will take part in Australia's Tour Down Under(TDU) which starts Tuesday, January 20th. As Oz is a day ahead of the USA, Lance's re-debut will actually be occurring here in the US on Monday. There is a possibility that he will ride the 30-mile Cancer Classic race on Sunday (Saturday in the USA), but the real race begins on Tuesday.
How Lance 3.0 will perform is, of course, the hot question. Word from inside the Armstrong camp is that Lance's most recent performance test had the Texan measured at 440 peak watts at threshold. As a comparison, Lance's best number during his Tour de France winning streak was about 450 watts. Not surprisingly, being at 440 watts this early in the season and also this early into his comeback put him way ahead of his schedule and prompted coach Chris Carmichael to suggest that Lance 3.0 take a few days off the bike.
But, is Lance really taking this race seriously when he has basically only been talking about the Giro, in May, and the Tour, in July? He has clearly taken some serious steps in his preparation to insure that he will be as acclimated as possible for the TDU. He spent the last several week on the big island of Hawaii acclimating not only to the Australian heat which can reach 100+F, but also the time zone change. Also, a photo of him taking a training break with his GF Anna Hansen revealed a totally ripped body; he looked even better than some of the years he triumphed in France.
So, it seems like Lance has brought his A game to the TDU. He is being paid a reported $1 million (probably US dollars) to start the race, but that money is not going into Lance's pocket rather it is earmarked for cancer research. Unfortunately, the six-day race offers little challenges in the way of climbs or time trials. The longest significant hill is only about 2.5 miles long.
Lance needs to find his racing legs meaning that he needs to feel comfortable on the bike going 30mph and riding in a pack of 100 riders doing the same. It seems like the safe bet for Lance 3.0 is to hang out in the pack and let the sprinters fight it out for the stages and overall glory. But, something inside me says that Lance won't be content to be just 'pack fodder' and that during at least one of the stages he will bust a move if only to be out in front, face in the wind, for a few miles before the sprinter's teams close it down for the finishes.
Stay tuned for updates as the race unfolds.