At the conclusion of his first race of the new season, Lance Armstrong believes his condition to be a vast improvement on that of 12 months earlier, when he returned to the sport after a three year retirement at the 2009 Tour Down Under. Armstrong was visible throughout the 2010 edition of the Australian ProTour event, with an attack in the pre-race criterium followed by an active role as a lead-out man for RadioShack’s sprinter Gert Steegmans.
The seven-time Tour de France winner was again on the attack with teammate Daryl Impey on stage four, albeit by accident. Although unable to keep up with breakaway riders Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) or Caisse d’Epargne teammates Luis León Sánchez and Alejandro Valverde on the race’s subsequent queen stage over Old Willunga Hill, Armstrong feels he’s in a strong position for the year ahead.
"You know, it feels different to last year," said Armstrong. "It feels more comfortable pedalling but also in the bunch, position and feeling the race is a big advantage. I think my condition is a little more advanced, my weight is lighter and we’ve got a good year in front of us. In 2010 we’ve got a simpler schedule and we’ve got our own team again."
Armstrong admitted that the competition had been greatly increased at the Tour Down Under, thanks to the inclusion of BMC Racing Team as a wild card and new ProTour outfit Team Sky. He believes the event will have served as good lead in to a big year of racing.
"You don’t want to over cook it, but I think its good preparation," said Armstrong. "I wouldn’t want it to be any harder."
RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel believes the change of team environment for this year has also assisted Armstrong. While the RadioShack team has been created from the infrastructure of the Astana team Armstrong rode for and Bruyneel managed last year, they’re no longer working under the direction of Astana’s Kazakh backers. Instead, the squad has started this season with a new, American corporate sponsor and different team ownership.
"Lance is good. He’s a lot different to last year," said Bruyneel. "I think physically his form is a lot better, he feels good in the bunch and he feels good in the team: so that’s three things that are a lot better than last year."
Armstrong’s position on the bike has been also been adjusted by the team since the conclusion of last year’s Tour de France. Bruyneel said they had to start from scratch as Armstrong hadn’t saved the data from his previous term as a professional cyclist.
"His position looks good right now. He’s currently looking very, very differently on the bike and he feels a lot better," said Bruyneel. "There’s quite a bit of difference. Last year his seat height was a lot lower and we don’t really know why, he’d kind of lost all the references of earlier on [in his career]. Since the 2009 Tour de France finished we have started to work on his position and it’s a bit different but I think the biggest difference people see is he’s a lot smaller. His upper body is very different."
An image of Armstrong doing weights in his garage was recently released in the rider’s picture book, which documented his return to the sport. Bruyneel made reference to Armstrong’s retirement fitness regime as one of the major changes that has taken place in the past 12 months.
"At the end of 2008 when he started to train again he was a retired athlete who wanted to stay in shape, stay fit, and he did a lot of different disciplines," said Bruyneel. "One of them was weight lifting. It makes you look good at the beach but it’s not the best for a bike rider. Since he started to race [again] he hasn’t lifted weights anymore but of course losing muscle takes a long time and he’s gotten rid of a lot of those bigger muscles in his upper body now which is what makes him look very different."
The RadioShack squad will now head to a team camp in Tenerife, Spain, scheduled to begin on February 4. They will resume their debut season next month with the Volta ao Algarve, Giro Di Sardegna, Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.