Lance Armstrong faced his first big loss in the mountains since he lost two minutes on the Col de Joux-Plane in the 2000 Tour de France, but the Giro d'Italia's stage to Alpe di Siusi Wednesday was not so bad for the 37-year-old American who faces his first Grand Tour in nearly four years.
"I did not come here with big hopes," said Team Astana's Armstrong.
Armstrong's aspirations were confirmed with on the second mountaintop stage of the Giro d'Italia in northern Italy, he finished 2:58 down on winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank). He is now 22nd overall, 3:34 behind race leader Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini).
"I thought that I would lose a couple of minutes to the best riders today, but it was closer to three. The key is to stay within your own limits and to try to keep the losses as small as possible."
The losses may not be too bad considering it is the first time Armstrong – a seven-time Tour de France winner – is racing the Italian equivalent of the French Grand Tour and he recently recovered from a collarbone fracture. To make matters worse, the high mountains appear in the first week instead of the third.
"It was my first time in the Dolomite Mountains; they seemed similar to the Tour climbs. But I have not raced mountains like this in a couple of years. Even before I retired, I was not racing that hard at this point in the year: it was usually some training camps, the Midi-Libéré and then the Dauphiné [Libéré]. I was never fantastic in the Dauphiné, so I can't expect to be in the top at this time in May, especially after the crash."
The second half of May (and the Giro) may turn in Armstrong's favour thanks to a 60.6-kilometre time trial in stage twelve and several mid-mountain stages. Team Astana could push for an Armstrong win in these stages while keeping team leader Levi Leipheimer protected. Leipheimer is 43 seconds back in the overall after five days of racing.
"I knew the first half was not going to be my half, I did not expect to be in the front. I will try to be better in the second half. The next important thing is the time trial. We will see what happens there."
The Cinque Terre is the longest time trial in the Giro d'Italia since 1996 and suits Armstrong. He based his seven Tour de France victories on his time trial wins.
A time trial also features on the race's final day in Rome, May 31. The centennial Giro d'Italia ends with a 14.4-kilometre stage past many of the city's famous sites.