Lance Armstrong was caught up in a late stage crash on the first day of the Vuelta Castilla Y Leon and suffered a broken collarbone. Lance returned to his home in Austin, Texas on Tuesday and is scheduled for surgery on Wednesday morning. This is definitely a blow to Armstrong's comeback. With many questions yet to be answered, just how big a blow has yet to be seen.
It is not clear exactly what will be done during the surgery, the expectation is that a plate will be attached to the collarbone to span the break and help speed up the recovery time. What is also not clear is the extent of the break. A CT scan was performed on Tuesday evening to determine the exact details of the break. Once the surgery is performed, Lance is going to need some down time to allow the break to start to heal.
A broken collarbone is one of the most common injuries in cycling and is really the first major injury from a crash that he has suffered since he started racking up his seven Tour de France wins. Racers have returned to competition within three to four weeks after breaking their collarbone, but laws of average don't necessarily apply in medical cases.
The effect on Lance's comeback is not really known at this time and may not be known for several weeks. Clearly, since the Giro d'Italia starts in just five weeks, Lance's quest for an overall title there is probably in jeopardy. In fact, his participation in the event may also be in question. The Giro seems to be a much more crash-prone event due in part to the fact that many of it's stage finishes include multiple circuits around the finish town on roads that vary dramatically in width.
If Lance doesn't ride the Giro, he is going to need to find some other races to sharpen his skills if he wants to contend for another Tour de France title. Whatever happens, don't count out the Texan. While circumstances may completely scuttle his comeback, if he can recover quickly and get back his motivation, there is no reason to doubt that he will be ready to rage in July.
ps - Levi Leipheimer demonstrated how quickly he recovered from his hip fracture at the Amgen Tour of California to win the much-anticipated time trial at the Vuelta Castilla Y Leon besting Astana teammate Alberto Contador by 16 seconds over the 15-mile course. Garmin-Slipstream's Dave Zabriskie recovered from his home burglary to take take third just 22 seconds behind Leipheimer.
The two greatest stage racers of the modern era are set to race, head-to-head, at Spain's Vuelta a Castilla Y Leon which starts on Monday. Ordinarily this situation would make for some very interesting racing. What makes this even more interesting is that both racers are on the same team. Yup, you guessed it, Big Tex and the Pistolero from Pinto are set to race side-by-side, well at least on the flats, in Spain.
Can it get even better? Of course it can. Cycling has had its share of drama over the past few years because of doping problems, but recently, the Lance and Alberto show has taken center stage. As you might remember, Alberto was all set to win Paris-Nice a week ago, but pulled a total rookie move by not eating enough food and bonking on a tough climbing stage. Lance didn't let that faux pas go, commenting to the media that Contador still had a lot to learn.
Public sparring between two riders on the same team is pretty unusual. I would have to say that Lance probably should have relayed his comments to his teammate privately, but in this era of Twitter and Facebook is anything safe from the public eye? Clearly, if both Armstrong and Contador are in top form at the Tour it is going to be a rough ride, but why create a bumpy road before you have to?
Some have commented that the reason Astana lost both Paris-Nice and the other big stage race at that time, Tirreno-Adriatico, was because of poor teamwork. That will definitely not be the case at Vuelta Castilla y Leon. Lance and Alberto will have Levi Leipheimer, Haimar Zubeldia (both top-5 finishers in the Tour de France) along with stalwarts Chechu Rubiera, Benjamin Noval, Thomas Waitkus and Jesus "Baby Jesus" Hernandez. This team could contend for a Tour title, it is that strong.
The Vuelta Castilla y Leon looks to be a good test for both Lance and Alberto. There is a 28km TT, similar in length to the Solvang TT at the Amgen Tour of California, plus two mountain-top finishes. This is exactly the kind of riding Big Tex needs to be doing to keep his comeback on track, the only question being is how he will ride given that the race is in Spain and Contador is Spanish and he is also the defending champion.
The five-stage race is laid out perfectly for maximum drama. Stage 2 is the time trial with Stage 3 and 4 being mountain-top finishes. Contador is on super TT form as of late, but if Armstrong uncorks a ripping ride, he could put the pressure on the team to ride for both potential team leaders. My guess is that Lance is still a tick or two behind Contador against the watch and in the mountains so we should see more gun slinging than fist pumps at the finish line.
Besides Team Astana, there are a number of other riders and teams of interest. Rock Racing and Garmin-Slipstream up the American factor and Fuji-Servetto finally got invited to a big race. Throw in Alejandro Valverde and Denis Menchov and this could be a lot of fun to watch.