Armstrong, Contador highlight drama at 96th Tour de France
Two weeks before the start of the 96th Tour de France, 1,870 days after his last pro victory,
Yep, that will be old man Armstrong asking for Metamucil in his water bottles, happy to collect the scraps left by the young guns. That's right, the old geezer in the Astana kit will be lucky to make the time cut every day.
Who knew Armstrong could sandbag as well as he gets up a mountain? The truth, of course, is he started looking like the Lance of old about halfway through May's three-week Giro d'Italia. With Leipheimer fading, Armstrong started turning back the clock, fighting his way into more and more of the elite selections in the high mountains. As was his custom during his seven-year reign over cycling, he used June to hone his form to a razor's edge. He is now lean as a wraith -- reportedly two kilos (4 ½ pounds) under the weight at which he won those seven Tours. It is the opinion of Italian rider
Le Tour will captivate for reasons other than the return of said beast, whose chances of winning number eight will be diminished by the fact that, after nearly four years out of the sport and two months shy of his 38th birthday, he may be no more than the third-strongest rider on the troubled Astana team. Powerful on paper, this squad could end up divided into more factions than a junior-high election. We'll preview that soap opera below. First, a look at ...
The most atypical Tour in years kicks off with that 15-kilometer prologue in Monaco, where Armstrong will hobnob with his old chum,
• The return, after a three-year absence, of the team time trial July 10 -- good news for the argyle-rocking riders of American-based Garmin-Slipstream, whose best shot at a stage win will come on this day. Fair warning to teams who struggle in this discipline: unlike past TTTs, there will be no limits to how much time a squad can lose.
• The ITT Devalued. Of this Tour's 3,500 kilometers, a mere 55 are devoted to individual time trials -- the fewest since 1967. That makes life harder for GC (general classification) contenders like Armstrong and
But the Kazakhs came up with $6 million, and with the crisis averted, Team Borat survived to ride another day. Armstrong, meanwhile, has said all the right things about Contador, repeatedly saluting him as the best stage racer in the world. But the Spaniard's insouciance has rankled his elder, who would relish the opportunity to take him down a peg.
Contador will ride away from Armstrong -- and maybe everyone else -- in the mountains. There was a time when the Texan could have marked those attacks, or pulled back the lost seconds in the Race of Truth. That time, I suspect, has passed.
I hope I'm wrong, if for no other reason to see how the French react to their