A forced vacation can't keep Lance away -- not for long, anyway
You knew it was bad, you knew
As anyone knows who has followed it in his oft-updated
One of the more remarkable aspects of Armstrong's seven-year reign at the top of his sport was his control -- of himself, of the situation, of the behavior of the riders around him. It was always someone else doing the crashing.
There was poor
Armstrong's luck -- he'd never broken a collarbone in 17 years of racing -- ran out on Monday, 12 miles from the finish of the first stage of a the Vuelta a Castilla y León. Armstrong came to grief on a narrow, sketchy road that teammate
Armstrong was then seen sitting in the grass, holding his right arm, then being trundled into an ambulance. "Clean collarbone fracture," Tweeted Astana GM
That reasonably upbeat assessment was contradicted by a rather gloomier pronouncement from Armstrong, who told a TV reporter, upon being discharged from the Spanish hospital, "I think for the Tour it's a very big problem."
Recovery from this most frequent of cycling injuries usually takes from four to six weeks. The Tour de France starts on July 4 -- three months and a week from now. That would seem to leave Armstrong plenty of time to heal the bone and recover form.
At much greater risk, now, is his participation in the Giro d'Italia, the three-week Tour of Italy, a race he has long admired but never contested. The Giro will begin on May 9 in Venice. Probably without the Texan.
While I won't go so far as to describe a broken bone as a disguised blessing, Monday's mishap should have the effect of uncomplicating Armstrong's life. He's often spoken of being in "uncharted territory" with this comeback, in part because, well, he'd never taken four years off before. And in part because he'd embraced a different, more ambitious racing schedule than ever before. Never, during his seven-year reign of Tour victories, had he taken the start at another three-week race. His journey to the pinnacle of his sport was powered, in part, by this intense specialization and focus: his entire year revolved around the Tour.
That focus has just been thrust back upon him. If, as now seems almost certain, he can't race the Giro, he'll find himself back in a familiar position -- focusing on the world's greatest bike race, something he's done better than anyone else on the planet.
The greatest bike racer in the world, meanwhile, is his Astana teammate,
Having spent 10 days together at an early-February training camp in California, the dueling team leaders were not scheduled to race together until the Tour de France. Journalists were sure to have spent that time raising questions, stoking doubt: How could they possibly work together, coexist harmoniously, if they hadn't seen one another in five months?
By racing with Contador in Spain this week, Armstrong intended to pre-empt such questions.
If his intention was to extend an olive branch to the younger rider, Armstrong set himself back in a recent interview with
That quote, innocuous as he sought to make it, is now sure to embarrass the Texan, considering which one of them was unable to keep the rubber side down on Monday.
This a different Lance we're seeing than the gimlet-eyed alpha male who scolded the doubters and the haters from the podium moments after clinching his final Tour in 2005. There's much to like about the new edition. As the erudite Columbia-High Road rider and ex-Armstrong teammate
He's a nicer guy, in short. Hell, after serving as Leipheimer's domestique for the duration of that race, Armstrong was talking about how, "maybe, at this stage of my life," it might not be such a bad thing for him, "spiritually," to work for other riders.
This spiritual evolution, these signs of selflessness and maturity, while attractive, do not necessarily create space for him on the road. "At the end of the day," says one ex-pro rider who knows Armstrong well, "you still have to be the baddest mofo out there. That happens by reinforcing the differences between them and you. What you're seeing now is, those barriers are coming down in guys' minds. That's one of the unintended consequences of Lance's humanist approach."
And yet, and yet ... he'll have surgery in a day or two. He'll be on the bike -- on a trainer -- within the week. He'll be itching to race before a month is gone. He was damned fit when he hit the pavement this morning. He's not going to lose that much form during this enforced vacation. He's still Lance Armstrong. All that luck