Big day for Armstrong |

Big day for Armstrong

Andrew Hood

TOULOUSE, France – The moment of truth for Lance Armstrong has arrived.

Cycling’s individual time trial is called the race of truth, a demanding discipline when riders head out on the course one at a time in a test of strength.

After a nail-biting start to the 2003 Tour, the world will have a much clearer idea today whether Armstrong can win a record-tying fifth Tour.

“I think this will be the most important time trial for me in five Tours,” said Armstrong. “Because the time trial comes so late in the Tour and because the race is so close, this could be the most important time trial of my career.”

Armstrong leads the Tour, but not with the same dominance he’s show in his four consecutive Tour victories. The 31-year-old Texan holds a slender, 21-second lead over Alexandre Vinokourov of Telekom, and eight riders lie within striking distance of just under three minutes.

Since 1999, Armstrong’s only lost one long time trial and that was by just 11 seconds to world time trial champion Santiago Botero last year. Armstrong spent extra time this spring working on his time trialing strength.

With four brutal and demanding stages looming in the Pyrenees, however, Armstrong will be looking to take time out of the dangerous climbing specialists, such as Basque rider Iban Mayo and Spain’s Francisco Mancebo.

Other rivals sense Armstrong could be vulnerable in the Pyrenees if he doesn’t display dominant form in the time trial.

“Two minutes, that’s nothing if Armstrong has a bad day. If Armstrong is not good in the Pyrenees, I will take profit,” said 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich, sixth at 2:10 back. “Just like Armstrong, I will be trying to make up some time to the climbers in the time trial.”

Some are suggesting Armstrong’s difficulties in the Alps are part an elaborate deception – and that he’s holding back for the decisive final week before making his move.

“I don’t believe Armstrong will lose,” said two-time Tour winner Laurent Fignon. “I think he’s bluffing well, because he hasn’t had to make any big efforts yet. Why should he play to the crowd? For him the only thing that matters is winning the fifth Tour, the rest doesn’t matter.”

There’s no doubt Armstrong wants to win his fifth Tour. Today’s stage will reveal just who’s telling the truth.

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