VITTEL, France – Lance Armstrong is ready to climb again, ready to leave the pack at the Tour de France after days of flat riding that belonged to sprinters.
After three days of sitting back in the main pack while others challenged for stage wins, the worst thing to happen to Armstrong was a small puncture to his back tire on Thursday’s 12th stage. Nicki Sorensen of Denmark won it, Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy kept the yellow jersey, and Armstrong’s tire was repaired within a flash.
Finally, today, it’s back to serious business as Armstrong goes up against his Astana teammate Alberto Contador on a tricky trek that features one grueling mountain climb.
“Tomorrow is hard, that is a real stage,” Armstrong said Thursday.
“The climb up Col du Platzerwasel is difficult, it is a long way. It is a longer day and anything can happen.”
Armstrong, who retired after his seventh straight Tour win in 2005 only to stun the cycling world by announcing he would race again this year, expects some of the Tour contenders to make their move today.
“You have to watch all the rivals, even someone like (Denis) Menchov,” Armstrong said of the Giro d’Italia winner. “Some might say he is five or six minutes behind and his race is finished, but if he gains back time, he has the Alps, and then if he is close enough on the (Mont) Ventoux, he could present a problem.”
Armstrong briefly looked to be in trouble after about 37 miles on Thursday, when he had to pull over to let his Astana team repair a puncture in his back wheel.
But after a few moments, four of Armstrong’s teammates helped him catch up with the main pack again.
“Up and down all day long and was aggressive from the start,” Armstrong said on his Twitter feed.
Although Nocentini will keep the yellow jersey heading into today’s 13th stage, he is not considered a threat for overall victory – and seemed to be saying he’s done the best he can.
“It’s a tough stage tomorrow but I’m already really happy,” Nocentini said.
He leads Contador by only six seconds and Armstrong by eight.
“We are approaching the really hard stages,” Contador said. “It will be a hard day (Friday). Then we will see how things develop with the uphill finish (to Verbier) on Sunday.”