Beyond the Peloton

July 10, 2010 9:39 PM

Will Lance Take Flight Today?

Things have not exactly gone according to the plan for Lance Armstrong and Team Radio Shack up to this point in the 2010 Tour. A disastrous flat tire has cost Lance precious time and now his quest for an eighth title is in serious jeopardy. Back home, ominous reports are surfacing that he may be part of a federal doping probe and may face subpoenas to testify once he returns Stateside.

When things don't go well for Armstrong, his first instinct is to attack his problems aggressively. To hit back as hard as he could. That's how he beat cancer. That's how he won seven consecutive Tours. And that's so far how his lawyers have handled these nagging legal questions.

So it would not be a surprise that Lance would take the 2010 Tour into his own hands by launching the first mountain stage attack to annihilate, or at least wound, his fellow GC competitors.

Today's stage has several elements that make it ideal for someone (if not Armstrong) to throw the contending group into disarray. It's the first true mountain stage of this Tour, with a rest day to follow immediately. An attacker will have a chance to recover and not be punished for the extra exertion. Also, the stage has two back-to-back long Cat. 1 climbs, capped by an uphill finish at Morzine. Someone getting dropped here will not get a chance to gain back time toward the finish.

_847913_armstrong_son300.jpgFor Armstrong, it's a stage with a little bit of history, too. In 2000, during perhaps his most dominant Tour, he inexplicably bonked on his way up to Morzine (though from a different approach), losing nearly two minutes to Jan Ullrich in the stage. It didn't matter because he was leading Ullrich by nearly 7:30 entering the stage, so the mishap did little to change the final outcome.

This time around, Armstrong is no longer the strongest rider who can punish his foes with impunity. He is old, vulnerable and though he's not likely too distracted by the potential impending legal issues, they couldn't have helped. Ever the clever tactician, as always teamed with Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong will have to take more chances than ever before.

But the bright side is that he doesn't have to worry about another Tour. This is it. He can throw caution to the wind. And we suspect that he'd rather know where he is sooner than later. If he should be successful in Stage 8, then he gets to fight another day and keeps his hopes alive for a grand farewell. If he's not, then he'll know the Tour is already lost.

Stage 8 Preview (Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz)

The first day in the Alps, this 189 km ride features five climbs, with two Cat. 1s and a Cat. 3 in the final 35 km. The GC contenders will shed most of the riders on the way up to Col de la Ramaz, the day's first big climb, then an attack by one of the top riders might materialize in the final 13.4 km climb toward Avoriaz.

Prediction: Lance Armstrong. Why not. He looked to be in good form in Stage 7 and there are only a handful of riders who can keep up with him even at his advanced age. If he's not going to wear yellow this year, he'll at least try to win a stage, something that eluded him last year (except for the team time trial). All the main GC contenders, except Armstrong's teammate Andreas Kloden, emerged unscathed during Stage 7, with exactly the same time gaps. This means Cadel Evans likely will be wearing yellow after Stage 8.

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