My buddy Chris Soden owns and manages Pro Peloton, one of the coolest bike shops in Boulder. Last week, we were talking about Greg Lemond's recent appearance at Lance Armstrong's Interbike press conference. Chris, who is also a pretty wise dude as well, wondered why Greg couldn't behave like Hammering Henry Aaron when Barry Bonds was closing in on Hank's home run record.
Unlike Lance Armstrong, who never tested positive for any performance enhancing drugs(PEDs), it is pretty clear that Barry Bonds used steroids for at least several years during his career. And, it is pretty clear that steroids were the drug of choice for the home run hitters in the major league. Given that information there was more than enough reason for Aaron to be upset at baseball's most important record being broken by Bonds.
We will never know how Aaron felt inside, but we do know how he responded publicly. When Barry hit #756 that summer evening in San Francisco, the scoreboard played a video message from Hammering Hank congratulating Barry on his accomplishment. Aaron was gracious in his praise, a true gentleman. There was no hint of negative feelings toward Barry.
It may be argued that Barry and Hank are from different generations and baseball has changed since Aaron set his record way back in the 70's. It also may be argued that Aaron was doing baseball a disservice by not publicly calling out the cheating in the sport and potentially helping baseball clean up its act.
Should Greg have followed Aaron's lead and been gracious about Lance breaking his cycling records? Riders such as 5-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain and arguably the world's greatest cyclist, Eddy Merckx, praised Armstrong when he broke their records. Is there a better way for Greg to accomplish his agenda rather than making direct attacks on Armstrong?
We all do what we feel we need to do and Greg feels the need to hound Armstrong and hammer his agenda whenever possible. I said this in my blog from the 2007 Tour that I would really like to know and understand Greg's motives for his behavoir toward Lance. I don't think he has ever really answered that question point blank which is too bad. Until then, we can only speculate and until we really know, our understanding of the situation is lacking.
Hopefully it is just because the pro cycling season is winding down and there is not much racing to report, but it seems that the only thing happening is more doping news. Recently, the French anti-doping laboratory (AFLD) completed it's testing of all the 2008 Tour de France samples. They were looking for CERA a new version of EPO that is time-released and appears to be more effective than the older versions. I guess you could call it 'new and improved'. Anyway, four cyclists have been caught using CERA at the Tour, Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli were tossed during the Tour, Stefan Schumacher and Bernhard Kohl were found positive during the AFLD's most recent testing.
The problem here is that all these guys are big names. Between them they won a total of five of the Tour's toughest stages, the King of the Mountains jersey and third place overall. That's a very sobering fact and shows that while the fight against doping is starting to work, there are still riders taking drugs.
There are a number of ramifications to these revelations. First off, UCI President Pat McQuaid has recently revealed that the UCI is seriously considering raising the length of time of a doping infraction from the current two years to four years. McQuaid indicated that the four year ban would only apply to deliberate acts of doping and not to those testing positive for accidentally taking a banned substance such as something in a cold medication or supplement.
A four year ban is basically a life sentence for a rider not to mention that with the current glut of professionals, most banned riders, unless they are a legitimate Tour de France contender, would be too much baggage to a team.
Another development arising from the recent doping scandals is that the two German television networks ARD and ZDF which broadcast the Tour have decided to drop the Tour from their programming schedule next year. Also, the Tour of Germany, a race won by Levi Leipheimer in 2005, has folded citing lack of sponsorship in the wake of the recent doping positives.
And you thought the financial markets were in crisis.
A few blogs back, I suggested that one way to fight the lack of motivation to ride the bike come fall was to go out and do some exploring. Well, just to prove that I can walk the walk, my buddy Nat Ross and I did just that last week and I ended up discovering what just might be my most favorite ride in the Boulder area.
It all started last year when, on one of my favorite dirt road rides (up Four Mile to Gold Hill for you Boulder locals), I started wondering if there was a way to connect to the Peak-to-Peak Highway if I turned left five miles up Four Mile Canyon where I usually turn right. So, several weeks ago, my friend Brian and I went left and rode about six miles up past the hamlet of Wallstreet to the even smaller hamlet of Sunset on a very nicely graded dirt road.
At Sunset, there were three possibilities. First, turn right and head up the Switzerland Trail, and old railroad grade, toward the town of Gold Hill. Secondly, head straight up Pennsylvania Gulch toward the Peak-to-Peak Highway and lastly, turn left and take the Switzerland Trail up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Brian assured me that he had ridden the last option on his road bike, but other Boulder locals disagreed as to the viability.
Now, just about anything is rideable on a road bike, especially if you are willing to push or 'hoof' it a bit. However, some feel that if you have to push too much then the road is really not suited for a road bike. I agree, but reserve judgment until after I have experienced the road.
Anyway, Nat, who was recently inducted into the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame and is a pro riding for the Subaru-Gary Fisher team is a perfect partner for these types of excursions. Not only does he possess more than enough technical skills to make up for my sorely lacking abilities, but he is always game to take the path less traveled and has the attitude to make it always seem like fun.
So, when the five-mile climb to Sugarloaf Mountain on the Switzerland Trail turned out to be a just plain fun and scenic romp, instead of taking the dirt road down the other side of the mountain, we headed west on a much smaller path in hopes of connecting to the Peak-to-Peak Highway. After seven miles of more enjoyable and scenic riding, oh yeah, did I mention the Aspens were in full fall foliage?, we finally hit the Peak-to-Peak Highway.
But, the best part, was that we came out at over 9000' on the Peak-to-Peak right at the top of the never-ending climb that make the ride from Nederland to Ward so uninviting. Not only had we discovered a new way to ride from Boulder to the Peak-to-Peak(4,000+' of climbing), but the route bypasses one of my least favorite climbs! It was like hitting the daily double at the race track. You gotta love exploring on a bike. Now, what about turning right at Sunset?
Defending Hawaiian Ironman Champion Chris McCormack withdrew from the 2008 Hawaiian Ironman Championships when he snapped his front deraileur cable and was told it would take 20 minutes to fix it. Before we get into exactly how long it actually takes to fix a problem such as a broken front deraileur cable, I feel compelled to point out that in my last blog I wrote "Clearly, a major mechanical or a bad crash can end an athlete's chances..."
The question is, is a snapped front deraileur cable a 'major mechanical'? I could speculate for about 20 paragraphs, but until we know exactly what Chris' drive train setup was, it probably not worth wasting the bandwidth. One thing Chris could have tried was to move the front deraileur set screw all the way to the limit to see if he could just get the big chainring. On the Queen K highway, the top pros are probably riding the big ring the entire way except maybe for the last pull up to Havi.
Regardless of the reason for the mechanical, it just goes to show how critical it is to have your bike in absolutely perfect working order if you are trying to be at the head of the pack in any race. And in case you need a reminder, the day or the night before your event is not the time to be doing any major work on your bike. You might want to give your deraileurs and brakes a slight adjustment, but putting on a new chain and/or overhauling your crank or headset is definitely a no-no.
I am not passing judgment on Chris McCormack since I don't know all the details of his broken cable. However, his unfortunate situation is a good reminder that having your bike race-ready is just as critical as doing all those intervals.
While hardcore pro bike race fans will be yawning their way through the sprintfest that is Paris-Tours, the most interesting event this weekend will most likely be the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships. There are several reasons for the interest. Retired pro cyclists such as Kai Hundertmark and Laurent Jalabert have been putting in some respectable performances in Kona. They aren't contenders for the win, but they are clearly capable of turning a few heads.
If you aren't a die-hard European pro racing fan, or even if you are, you have to be impressed by the rides the top pros clock on the 112-mile bike leg. That is especially true if the rider(s) are poor swimmer because as they say in Kona, 'a minute in the swim is worth five minutes on the bike.' Of course, they are referring to the notorious trade winds which blow predominately north to south. Since the first part of the bike leg is heading north and the winds start to come up about an hour or two after the race start, the quicker you can get out of the water and onto the bike the less headwind you will have to deal with on the drag to the mid-ride turnaround at Havi.
Having ridden on the Queen K, I have to say that the least amount of time you have to spend on that incredibly boring stretch of road, the better mental state you will be in when it is time to marshal energy and motivation for the marathon. Sure, triathloning, especially since it is an endurance sport, is all about overcoming pain, but coping with the boredom which is the Queen K is also a big factor.
It seems like in recent years, the Hawaiian Ironman has been won on the run, but the bike leg has played a role in the outcome as well. Clearly, a major mechanical or a bad crash can end an athlete's chances, but if the winds are bad or the heat really picks up, things can get ugly on the bike.
So, if you find yourself nodding off as the pro peloton lopes along on its way from Paris to Tours, check out what's happening at Kona. The pros on the Big Island can ride pretty fast was well.
There is an old saying, "a bad day fishing beats a good day at work." Well, with the current economic crisis, you could almost change that to "a bad day on the bike beats a bad day on the stock market," but even that doesn't really capture what I am trying to say. Remember that line from movie City Slickers when Daniel Stern's character says about his relationship with his dad something to the effect, "we never saw eye to eye on anything, but we always had baseball". But, that still doesn't really demonstrate the point I am trying to make.
I guess what I am trying to say is that regardless of what is happening in the world around me, I can always seem to find some peace and understanding when I am on the bike. I won't go as far as to say it is my sanctuary, but when everything appears to be falling down around me(most recently it was a leaky toilet that didn't want to stop dripping) the bike is there to take me away from the problems of the moment and give me some happiness.
We all ride bikes for different reasons be it racing, fitness, touring or whatever. Hopefully, regardless of the reason, we all can find happiness when on the bike and can let the problems in our life take a time out. That doesn't mean that the problems will go away, but by stepping back and heading out on a spin the edges dull a bit and the problems don't seem that insurmountable.
Sometimes, stepping away from a problem helps figure out the solution. When I was in hi-tech, I solved some of my most frustrating problems when I took a break and let my mind clear a bit. Of course, I couldn't exactly get my employers to regard my on-the-bike-time as working hours, but it really didn't matter since I was getting in a great ride and when I got back to my work I knew the problem would be solved.
Hopefully, in the time of national and even global economic crises we can still make time to ride. It is almost required for those trying to maintain sanity.
Come fall, most of us suffer a bit of a motivational crisis. We have put a lot of energy into meeting our yearly goals, which, unless you are a Belgian Classics rider, usually come in the summer. Whether it was your first century, big European cycling tour or to break 20 minutes in the club time trial, when the leaves start falling off the trees, there doesn't seem to be much reason to pull on all those extra clothes and head out.
One way to generate some motivation and jump start your training for next year's goals is to do some exploring on your bike. We all have our favorite rides which follow well-traveled and well-known routes, but as you are turning left on that road for the umpteenth time, haven't you ever wondered what happened if you turned right?
This brings up another way to get excited about the bike again. Maybe it is time to skip that group ride you do every Saturday morning and grab a couple of your best riding buddies and go on an exploratory ride. For some reason, while you slow down come fall, that pesky group ride never seems to suffer the same fate. Rather than hang on for dear life, hating the bike, resist the urge to do what everybody else is doing and strike out on your own.
These days, with Google Maps, you can get a pretty good idea of where a road goes, be forewarned that Google Maps does not distinguish between paved and dirt roads. If you are really concerned, you can look at the satellite photo to determine the road surface.
It is all about shaking up your routine; getting yourself out of a rut and becoming excited once again about the bike. Go exploring. You never know, you might just find another killer ride to add to your quiver.
Lance Armstrong's comeback continues to make news. Pierre Bodry, who heads the French Anti-Doping Agency(AFLD) has asked Lance for permission to test his urine samples from the 1999 Tour for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). You may remember that back in 2005, under the guise of trying to develop a better test for EPO, the French National Anti-Doping Laboratory(LNDD) tested a bunch of urine samples from the 1999 Tour and claimed that they were, through records provided by the UCI, able to link Armstrong to several of the samples which tested positive for EPO.
Lance disputed the results noting that the samples were six years old raising the question of spoilage and also raising the issue that there was no confirming, or "B" sample, to back up the validity of the results. Armstrong's concerns were valid and it appeared to most Americans that this was just another French witch hunt.
In light of all the allegations an independent investigation into the testing was conducted; the results of the investigation concluded that the French laboratory(LNDD), the French Ministry of Sport and then WADA Chief Dick Pound all behaved improperly regarding the 1999 Tour samples.
Now that Lance is back in the saddle, Mssr. Bodry wants to put the issue to rest by testing the samples in the AFLD lab. In response to the Frenchman's request, Lance issued a public statement basically re-iterating his concerns from 2005 and denying any further testing of his 1999 samples.
I agree with Lance. It has now been nine years since those samples were taken and even though Mssr. Bodry has assured everyone that the samples are not spoiled, I just think too much time has passed to go back and re-visit this issue. It is worth noting that when professional cycling agreed to abide by the WADA code in 2001, one of the provisions in that code was that blood and urine samples could and would be stored for potential future testing. However, in 1999, this provision did not exist, neither did WADA for that matter, so there is no guarantee that there were procedures in place to insure that sample spoilage would not occur.
Also, the lack of a confirming or "B" sample is critical. I am a big proponent of athletes' rights and one of the few rights riders seem to have these days is the ability to request that their "B" sample be tested to confirm a positive "A" sample.
Do you agree with Lance or should he allow his samples to be tested?
While most cycling enthusiasts are familiar with road racing and mountain bike riding, one aspect of the sport, trials riding, is somewhat unfamiliar to American fans. Trials riders are the guys who can navigate their bikes up, over and around the most heinous obstacles. They are the technical masters of the sport, I am continuously amazed at what these guys can do with their bikes. You could almost call them the magicians of cycling.
One of the best magicians is 2006 World Champion Italian Vittorio Brumotti who hails from Varese just north of Milan. Vittorio and his posse traveled from their home country to Interbike in Las Vegas to perform in the infield during the National Crit Series Finals. Watching Brumotti warm up, it was clear that he truly enjoys not only performing some incredible feats, but he also gets a kick out of exciting the fans.
His show began with a set of amazing "ups", literally jumping himself and his bicycle straight up onto a wood box up to a height of five feet. Once up on the boxes, Vittorio demonstrated his ability to hop and stick, jumping up and across from box to box spanning gaps as much as three to four feet. You might think that this doesn't sound too difficult, I guess I forgot to mention that each box was barely the width of the the wheelbase of Vittorio's bike. What that means is that if, in gymnastics terms, he doesn't "stick" the landing, forget getting a bad mark from the Russian judge, Brumotti is looking at a very nasty 3-5 foot fall onto hard pavement.
If you were lucky enough to be at the show, you could have been part of the fun. Vittorio demonstrated his bunny-hopping skills by jumping over a number of closely-spaced spectators throwing in a nose wheelie or two to show just how much control he has over his bike. If you were weren't lucky enough to watch Vittorio's show, you can check out his website www.brumotti.com or search for him on You Tube. If you aren't impressed, check to see if you have a heartbeat.
I don't want to spend every single blog talking about Lance and his comeback, but the subject is a pretty target rich environment and it makes for very interesting commentary. The topic of this blog is to address some of the comments made by Greg Lemond at the Lance Armstrong press conference last Thursday at the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas.
One of the points Greg appeared to be making was that he felt it was insufficient to just test Lance's biological parameters. Lemond wanted Lance to also be tested for such things as Max V02 and power output. Lemond's comments bring up two interesting points. First, if the UCI, and WADA for that matter, are going to use biological passports as their primary weapon against doping, WADA needs to come up with an official list of the parameters which will be tested. Basically, there needs to be some agreed-to official list that makes everyone feel good about the comprehensiveness of the monitoring.
Secondly, I think it is unfair to Lance to require that his Max V02 and power output be made public. Remember, Lance has stated that the results of all his drug testing will be put on a website for all the world to see. I commend Lance for doing this, but he is taking a bit of a risk in that his public values might give his competitors an inside look into his conditioning. That is why things such as power output can't really be made public. Lance 2.0 has stated that he didn't feel ready for the Tour unless he was generating 6.7 watts/kg. If his power output is made public and it is below that level, his competitors may sense weakness and attack.
Of course, Lance could use the website to provide some disinformation to his competitors, but that would be against the purpose of the site so that is out of the question. If Greg Lemond really feels that the parameters specified by WADA for the biological passport are inadequate, he should take his case directly to WADA.
Lance Armstrong held two press conferences this week, the first in New York on Wednesday and the second on Thursday at Interbike in Las Vegas to announce the plans for his return to cycling. After the dust had settled we now know enough to create an interesting picture. Lance will be riding for Team Astana, re-united with his former Team Director Johan Bruyneel. He will receive no salary for his services, but will be asking the team to pay for certain things, one such item is the cost of his drug testing. His major reason for returning to competitive cycling is to improve the global awareness of cancer.
Lance has asked Don Catlin who ran the WADA-accredited drug testing lab at UCLA to spearhead the testing effort which will be longitudinal meaning that Catlin will monitor a number of physiological parameters over time, looking for abnormal fluctuations which might indicate use of performance enhancing drugs(PED's). This is very similar to the WADA proposal for biological passports. The results of the tests will be posted on a website for all to see.
When it comes to a racing schedule, Armstrong has committed to the Australian Tour Down Under in January 2009 and the Amgen Tour of California in February 2009, but his plans for the Tour de France are not clear at this time.
Armstrong is also creating a U23 development team built around 2008 Beijing Olympian and teen phenom Taylor Phinney. About nine riders are expected to join Phinney with Axel Merckx to be the team director.
There was a bit of drama at the Las Vegas press conference when Greg Lemond asked several questions about the type of longitudinal tests to which Lance will be subjected. While Greg may have had a valid point to make, his rambling style made his questions seem more like a whitch hunt than a direct request for information/clarification. If Greg is sincere in his concerns about Lance's return to cycling, he needs to be more coherent and concise in his questioning. To his credit, Lance handled the whole affair very diplomatically . Hopefully, Greg can effectively communicate his concerns so incidents such as this do not become commonplace.
Obviously, there are many more details forthcoming and we should learn more about them in the coming months. Suffice it to say that Armstrong is back and he has set up a scenario in which there should be no doubts as to whether he is racing clean. Welcome back Lance.
This week the UCI World Cycling Championships are being held in northern Italy. If you don't seem to care who wins, you are not alone. The Worlds used to be held in late August/early September but, about 10 years ago the UCI moved them into late September/early October. Ever since that move, the World Championships have lost their luster and though every year worthy riders win the rainbow jerseys it just doesn't seem the same.
A closer examination reveals a number of reasons for the decline in the Worlds. First off, it is a very long racing season. The first races begin in February and run all the way through October. It is very difficult for a rider to stay fresh and fit throughout the whole season. When the Worlds were in August most riders tried to hold their form. Now that the Worlds are a month later, and after the Vuelta a Espana, many riders chose to end their season, especially if they don't ride the Vuelta, early.
Also, because the Worlds come so late in the season, a rider has to make some hard decisions concerning their racing schedule. It is clearly possible to hold form from the Tour in July until the Worlds, but if a rider has ridden an ambitious spring program, the extra month until the championships may prove just too difficult to overcome.
All this adds up to less than complete fields for the pro men's races. Two-time defending world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara recently stated that he just doesn't have any spark left to defend his title. Maybe an Olympic gold medal is enough, but I am guessing that he is pretty darn tired and doesn't want to wait until late September to end his season.
How about USA's pro men's team for the worlds. About the only headliner is Levi Leipheimer; I was seriously expecting a call from the US team manager asking if I felt fit enough to go 270km. My guess is that Levi is at the Worlds because he is basically in his second season after having to sit out July when Team Astana wasn't invited to the Tour. Levi rode well in the Olympics to get a bronze medal in the TT and he won both the TT's at the Vuelta. With Cancellara on a beach in the Adriatic, Levi is the odds on favorite for the win and he is making the right call to sieze the opportunity.
Here's hoping that Levi wins the TT. But, I am also hoping that the UCI moves the Worlds back to late August/early September so that all the best riders are present at the starting line. The World Championships used to be a great event. Let's hope the UCI can make the right moves to restore the Worlds to it's former glory.
The Vuelta a Espana concluded yesterday in Madrid and Spain's Alberto Contador won his third grand tour claiming the trifecta of the Tour, Giro and Vuelta. Clearly, the 25-year old is the world's top stage racer he climbs like an angel and time trials well enough to limit his losses. Unfortunately for American Levi Leipheimer Contador is his teammate which means that unless Alberto totally melts down in the mountains, Levi is going to have a tough time standing on the top step of the podium.
That's both good and bad. Without a doubt, Levi was the best time trialist at the Vuelta, winning both the races against the clock, and he was clearly the second best rider in the race behind his teammate. Thank heavens team director Johan Bruyneel let Leipheimer and Contador ride without orders in the final TT, it would have totally bogus to ask Levi to throttle his engine. That would not have been right.
There is a bit of history here. Way back in 2001 when Levi was in his first tour of duty with Bruyneel and the then US Postal Service Team, Leipheimer and his teammate Roberto Heras were locked into a dual for third place going into the final TT. Bruyneel let them ride then and Levi bested Heras to claim the final spot on the podium and it was that race which really propelled Leipheimer into the upper ranks of the pro peloton.
If anyone has any doubts as to which is the strongest stage race team in the world, I think that question has been answered. With a win in the Giro and a 1-2 finish at the Vuelta, my guess is that Carlos Sastre is thanking his lucky stars that Team Astana did not get invited to the Tour. Hopefully, that situation will be rectified for 2009.
The Lance angle in all this is that on Wednesday, the 24th, the Texas Tornado will make a public announcement about his future in pro cycling. Recently, Armstrong has been logging some pretty serious training miles in both Aspen and Solvang, the big question is not if, it is with whom? Given his strong ties with Trek Bicycles, the most likely candidate is Team Astana, but where does that leave grand tour champion Contador and Leipheimer?
If Lance has any ambitions to win the Tour again, I think he has to sign with Astana. I think Contador is a strong enough challenger to Lance's ambitions that the only way Lance can neutralize that challenge is to make him a teammate. Lance has a history of doing just that, the most notable example was the signing of Roberto Heras in 2001 after he put Lance in a spot of bother at the 2000 Tour. I don't know what Lance's arrival at Astana will do to team dynamics, but from a purely competition side of things, Contador has to be neutralized.
Of course, all of this is just speculation. We will hopefully get a much clearer picture on Wednesday. One interesting piece of fallout from Lance 3.0 (Lance 1.0 was the Motorola years; Lance 2.0 was the post-cancer years) is that the Tour of Georgia just might be saved. Rumours are that the Tour of Georgia will not return for 2009, but the power of Lance may just be strong enough to keep the Georgia race alive.
While the cycling world is still reeling from the revelation that Lance Armstrong will make a comeback, several other high profile American riders are staging comebacks of their own. However, unlike Lance, who has never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (PED's) both Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton did test positive. Hamilton served his two year suspension and returned to the pro peloton in 2007 with Rock Racing while Landis' suspension ends in January 2009; he has been linked to the Momentum Sports Group which has Health Net as it's title sponsor.
Tyler's comeback got off to a rocky start when he was initially excluded from the Tour of California then at the last minute given the green light to participate. He chose to support his other two excluded teammates Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla and not start as well. His form gradually increased throughout the season and peaked in mid-summer with a win at the Tour of Quinhai Lake a week-long UCI-rated stage race in China. However, his biggest win was undoubtedly the USPRO road championship in Greenville, South Carolina which will enable the 37-year old Boulder resident the privilege of wearing the so-called "Captain America" jersey next year.
Though there is no official verification, Floyd Landis has been linked to team Health Net-Maxxis' management company, Momentum Sports Group. Health Net is discontinuing its sponsorship at the end of 2008, the rumour is that Smith&Nephew, the company which makes Floyd's artificial hip will step in as title sponsor.
While just about everybody is hailing Lance's comeback, both Tyler's and Floyd's return to the pro peloton are being met with mixed reaction. Many are unhappy that two riders, who have never confessed to their doping positives, are back in the fold. Others feel that Floyd's and Tyler's positive results were fraught with enough doubt that they should never have had to be sanctioned in the first place.
Regardless of how one feels the facts are that both Tyler and Floyd will have served the entire length of their suspensions and by the regulations that govern professional cycling, they are now free and clear to return to racing. If the governing body of the sport is able to grant the riders a second chance shouldn't the fans be able to do the same? Even if you feel that they cheated, under the rules of the sport as they stand now, they are allowed to return. Can the fans forgive?
The whole cycling community is buzzing with the recent revelation that seven-time Tour de France champion and living cycling legend Lance Armstrong is reportedly coming out of retirement to re-join his buddies in the European pro peloton. Forget the freefall in the US and world economic markets, this is big news. The 37-year old Texan traded his cleats for running shoes after the end of the 2005 Tour, but after a three-year hiatus this comeback looks to be for real.
Rumours are that Lance's strong showing in the recent Leadville 100 MTB race re-kindled his competitive fire. Armstrong has been using Aspen as his training base and has just recently purchased a place there. Competing in several local and regional races, including the 12-Hour of Snowmass which he won with his three-man team, those who have seen him on the bike say he is as determined as ever to make his return to two wheels a successful one. Lance has been linked to Team Astana being run by the man who directed his seven Tour wins, Johan Bruyneel, though he has scheduled a September 24th press conference to make his plans public.
The big question is at age 37, can the Texas Tornado still be competitive in the European pro ranks? Another question is, after seven Tour de France victories, what does Lance have left to prove on the bike? The question on fitness is really only one that Lance can answer. We all age differently and while no one has ever won the Tour at age 37 (Firmin Lambot won the Tour at age 36 way back in 1922) Lance was the first rider to win the Tour six and seven times and you don't accomplish that without a lot of drive and ambition to complement one's fitness.
When the rumours of Lance's comeback first surfaced about a month ago from deep within the halls of Active.com, speculation was that Armstrong's return would focus on the aspects of cycling, other than the Tour, that the former Discovery Channel rider had not yet conquered. Could Lance become the first American to win the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix the two most revered one-day Classics? Armstrong has shown that he can be competitive in the big one-day races having won the Fleche Wallone and come second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold, and the Championships of Zurich.
Lance says that one of his major motivations for returning is to spread the word, globally, about cancer. But, if he ends up on Team Astana he will have to contend with Alberto Contador who is on form to win the Vuelta which would give him the trifecta of the three grand tours after his 2007 Tour and 2008 Giro wins.
So, what do you all think about Lance's return to cycling? After having gone out on such a high note in 2005 is this a no-win situation or is there an upside which most cycling aficionados seem to be missing?
ps - whatever the reason, it will be great to have Lance back in cycling. He is a great ambassador for the sport. I, for one, would love to see him go back to his winning ways.