Locals put predictions on Lance
With the mountain stages of the Tour de France beginning today in the Alps, local viewers are anxious to see if climber extraordinaire Lance Armstrong can make a break for it and claim his seventh and final Tour victory. Armstrong’s local contingent of fans don’t have many doubts, although some feel certain factors must come into play for Armstrong to end his cycling career with a win.”I think this year is going to be harder than ever for him,” said Trent Connor, bike tech at The Kind Cyclist bike shop in Edwards. “It’s everyone’s last chance to beat him. The other day when his team couldn’t keep up, that can’t happen again. (Today) and Wednesday in the Alps, if Lance doesn’t put a lot of time on the other top guys, he’ll be in trouble. His team better stay with him.”Armstrong’s primary contenders are believed to be long-time rival Jan Ullrich, 2003 bronze medalist Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Kloeden, all of T-Mobile, and Ivan Basso of Team CSC. However, local Tour viewers point out that there are many complexities to the race, and some Tour tactics come in the form of bluffs.
“Even though I own a bike shop and somewhat understand bike racing and have been cycling for many, many years, it’s pretty hard to completely know what teams are trying to do now,” said Bruce Kelly of Pedal Power. “I’m assuming that the Discovery Channel (team) knows their competitors – their strengths, their weaknesses. But there’s a couple of teams there … I’m not sure if, for instance, CSC isn’t playing a little game with the Discovery team. I’m not sure they’ve played the card of who their GC rider (contender for overall Tour victory) really is. I don’t know if it’s (Bobby) Julik, (Jens) Voigt, or is it Basso? Maybe they’ve changed their strategy. The Discovery team and Lance Armstrong are tough to beat, but I think there’s some surprises yet to be seen – trying to understand the attacks and who he has to answer to. Who knows what T-Mobile is going to do? I think it’s going to be interesting before it’s over. I don’t think it’s going to be decided in the Alps. I think it will be decided in the Pyrenees.”One of the big questions as to whether or not Armstrong can pull ahead in the mountains as he has done in the past is if his team can hang with him and protect him from inevitable attacks. The question is being pondered more now than ever after Armstrong’s teammates abandoned him when they couldn’t keep up in a mountain ascent Saturday to Gerardmer, France.”It’s hard to keep up with that speed uphill, they’re saying the average speed is record-breaking this year,” said local cyclist Scott Rogers. “I don’t think (Armstrong’s) team will let that happen again. I think the Alps will be pretty telling, but I don’t think they’ll be make or break. It would be good to set the pace for the rest of the tour, especially the mountain stages.”
There’s one thing for certain as the mountain stages unfold, Armstrong is going to be attacked, and attacked often.”Both (the Alps and Pyrenees stages) are going to play a big factor,” said Jeff Mohrman of Colorado Bike Service. “All the teams are going to be playing their last card, for sure, in the Pyrenees. The only thing is, if his team falls apart and he gets attacked heavily in the mountains. Every team is going to attack him. “Following the Pyrenees routes, riders will embark on a final individual 55-kilometer time trial in Stage 20 Saturday to St. Etienne. Armstrong won the final time trial last year to secure his already significant lead, and in 2003, Ullrich slid off-course in the time trial, dropping the precious seconds needed to overtake Armstrong.
“Vinokourov is going to be a solid challenger. I think he’ll get on the podium,” Mohrman said. “Ivan Basso is a strong rider, but in the past, he hasn’t been good at time trials. But he’s learned to time trial. You have to be good at everything. I think Lance is going to do it. He’s proven that he can do it. He’s done it six times. As long as his team’s there, I don’t see why he couldn’t do it. If I were betting, I’d put my money on Lance Armstrong.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado