Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Two Ways Lance Can Win The Tour

The pro cycling season opened last week in the warmth of the Australian summer at the Tour Down Under. Lance Armstrong finished 25th--a good result considering it's not a race that necessarily suits him, and not a race that he was using for anything more than training.

Armstrong's goal this year is simple: win the Tour de France, or, if that can't happen--make sure Alberto Contador doesn't win the Tour de France.

Armstrong doesn't like Contador very much. Let me rephrase that--Armstrong hates Contador with a passion. The two fought via Twitter last year after a very tense three weeks as "teammates" in the Tour. Lance didn't like some of the attack-as-you-please tactics of Contador, saying that Alberto was too often going against team orders. However, if Lance had attacked like Contador attacked, he would have been praised as "ballsy" and "hammering home his authority" on the peloton. In reality, Contador was, by far, the strongest rider in the race. Lance didn't like that, and Contador didn't like it that Lance didn't like that.


Lance is 38 years old. His best days are behind him, but he can still produce some good ones (he finished third last year in the Tour after three years off--I don't have room on this blog to tell you how impressive that is). He might--might--be able to win the Tour this year. But, Contador is 27 years old and in the prime years of a stage racer's career. Contador is the best climber in the sport, and outside of Fabian Cancellara, the best July time trialist in the sport. That's a tough combination to beat. But there are two ways for Lance to take down Contador (not including a Contador crash, injury, or positive dope test).

First, beat him head to head. This, of course, is the way Lance would want to do it. In his perfect scenario, he finds his 28 year old legs. He steals a minute or so during the early cobblestone stage, where the Spanish climbers (like Contador) traditionally get bounced around. He then climbs with the best, always marking Contador. He then is able to ride just as well, if not a little better than Contador in the time trails. In the end, he's able to squeeze out a one minute or so overall advantage and wins his 8th Tour. That is the recipe for Lance to win this summer. He won't drop Contador in the mountains, or beat him by minutes in a time trial. He must take a few seconds here and there and have those seconds add up. In the old days, Lance could win the Tour by 8-10 minutes. Those days are gone.

There is a much higher chance of Contador beating Lance by 8 minutes overall than there is of Lance beating Contador by 8 minutes. Lance knows this.


Lance's new team, Radio Shack, is good. Very good. It's basically last year's Astana team, which dominated the race. Cycling is a team sport, and this year Lance's team could beat Contador, even if Lance can't.

Lance would rather finish first himself, but I believe that he would also really enjoy it if one of his Shack teammates won the Tour just because that would mean that Contador wouldn't win the Tour. I almost think that, at this stage of his career, making sure Contador doesn't win is just as important as Lance winning himself. Two reasons for this: Lance hates Alberto, and he knows that Alberto is the only rider in the sport that could challenge his record 7 Tour wins. It's about revenge, and about preserving his legacy.

I envision a scenario this July where team Radio Shack attacks Contador left and right--on the flats and in the mountains. I can see them sending Leipheimer, then Kloden, then Lance, then whoever else, on repeated attacks--forcing Contador to counter each move or risk losing his chance to win the race overall. Contador may be up to the task, but even the strongest guy is sometimes no match for a really strong team.

It would still kill Lance to see Leipheimer or Kloden on the top step in Paris, but not as much as it would kill him to see Contador there. And, in the end, Lance has won enough. He might actually find a different form of competitive pleasure by orchestrating a team win that ultimately rewards a teammate with cycling's top honor instead of getting all of the glory himself. Especially if it knocks Contador down a peg or two. Now THAT would be something worth tweeting about.


  1. You mentioned that cycling is a team sport, so I feel compelled to magnify a subtlety that you alluded to.

    The fact that many of the strongest riders from Astana are now with Team Radioshack also means that Contador will be riding with a weaker team. In the off-season, Contador tried to find a better team, but in the end stayed with Astana.

    People don't realize that, especially in the Tour, a strong team does a lot of work for the team leader. They enable a variety of strategies to play out. With Contador being so strong, its likely this is the single biggest equalizer.

    One other thing, it seems like Lance is training pretty hard this year. Sounds silly to say, but something tells me he's going to be very strong in July. All these early races should be discounted because you really don't know what Team Radioshack's goals are. They clearly didn't have the team to win at the TdU (look at the roster).

    Very intrigued and can't wait for July...

  2. I really enjoyed reading that, Mr. Miller.

    I wish had something intelligent to add about cycling, but I don't.

  3. Junior - some of your best work! In my head I hear the voices of Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin speaking your words. Cant wait. Sports.