|Lance Article from the Times(NY)||no excuses|
Apr 14, 2003 4:22 AM
|Tour Always on Armstrong's Mind
By SAMUEL ABT
A CHAPELLE SUR ERDRE, France, April 11 — Although it's early April, in Lance Armstrong's mind it's July, the only month that counts, and he was not here in western France preparing for the unimportant four-day Circuit de la Sarthe but for the supreme bicycle race, the three-week Tour de France.
He has an intestinal virus, pains in his back and stomach, but when he arrived at his United States Postal Service team's hotel on Sunday night, he wanted to use his extra time before the race began Tuesday to see the nearby course for the final long time trial in the Tour de France.
More than see the 49-kilometer (30-mile) course in the seaside town of Pornic, he wanted to ride it, test it and, it goes without saying, master it.
He did. Armstrong, the 31-year-old Texan, who will seek his fifth successive victory in the Tour in July, returned Monday afternoon from his ride satisfied.
"It looks straight as an arrow, perfect pavement, absolutely west-east with a few deviations through villages for time checks. They set them up in houses in villages. Today there were headwinds, but it's west-east, the start is right on the beach, so I'd think the winds should be from the back," he decided. "Could be fast, really fast."
Mission accomplished. He smiled. Check this daily stage off his Tour de France prep list. There are fewer than a dozen ahead. He will inspect them all, he said.
Does it really help to see the routes, to commit every stage in the Alps and Pyrenees to memory? Nobody else does it, or ever has.
"It depends," he said in a long interview here. "Like today, you didn't need to see that. But, for me, the more important thing is tradition and superstition. I've always done it, I've always gone and looked at all of them.
"If somebody called me and said, `Hey, it's absolutely flat, good pavement, all on one road,' I'd still come. Even if there wasn't a race like the Circuit de la Sarthe, I'd still fly up here and look it over."
Has any rider ever trained as hard as Armstrong, who says he spends at most 10 days a year off his bicycle?
"Good question," replied Johan Bruyneel, 38, the Belgian directeur sportif, or coach, of Armstrong's Postal Service team and a former top rider with 23 years' experience in the sport.
"I don't know how everybody trains, but definitely, it's very difficult to train more than Lance does. Especially in May, when he starts to be in good shape and when he prepares for the mountain stages — how he does it, how focused he is, how hard he trains — from what I've seen he's one of the hardest trainers in cycling."
Armstrong says he loves to train, to go out on the roads near his home in Girona, Spain, alone or with a friend and ride for hours.
"Oh yeah, four, five hours every day. Even on a rest day, I'll go out for an hour, an hour and a half, just to be on the bike. I didn't used to be so dedicated, but I changed when I got sick" — testicular cancer in 1996 that spread to his lungs and brain and required chemotherapy and two years out of the sport to conquer.
"I realized then that I had not worked hard enough," he said. "I changed my focus," shorthand for transforming himself from a rider in one-day classics to a dominator, starting in 1999, in the Tour de France.
But what a difficult mission he has before him. In all the years since the Tour began in 1903, only four riders have won it five times: Jacques Anqueil, Armstrong's buddy Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Only Indurain, a Spaniard, won it five successive times, nearly a decade ago. The pressure mounts. This is the centennial of the Tour.
"They've tried to make the centennial very significant," Armstrong said. "But if it was the 99th year or the 101st year, it would still be the most important thing of the year for me. The centennial doesn't change the importance for our team or for me as an athlete."
He looked trim, perhaps