By Laura Weislo in Solvang, California
Lance Armstrong passed his first time trial test of his revived career on Friday's Tour of California Solvang time trial, finishing in 14th place, 1'16 behind his teammate and stage winner Levi Leipheimer.
"I haven't done anything like that in a long time, so it was a different sensation," Armstrong said after the race. "I went as hard as I could, and I was hoping to be top ten, top 15, so I have to be pleased with that."
After strong performances from Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia-Highroad) and Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Armstrong fell to sixth overall while Leipheimer extended his lead in the general classification. But Armstrong is focused less on his own performance and more on helping Leipheimer capture his third straight Tour of California victory. "There was no pressure, because the race is really about Levi. When I was doing my own race I was waiting to hear the splits of Levi and Zabriskie."
The rolling 24-kilometre course challenged Armstrong, who is focused more on May's Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in July. "It was hard. I felt better on the hills than I did on the flats. These flat parts are deceiving - on the way out it's a false flat, and I suffered more on that. Also we had a new position, so I'm still getting used to that."
"Today, it was 24 kilometres, in the Giro it is 62km, almost three times that. These things help, but truth be told I haven't done one interval since this whole thing started, so I shouldn't expect to set the world on fire like guys such as Zabriskie."
The stage was Armstrong's first professional time trial since his retirement in 2005, and while he used to be well familiar with the intensity of the event, stepping back into even a relatively short effort took some getting used to.
"There is a lot of routine involved [in preparing for a time trial]. The morning ride, the warm-up, the way to start a time trial - the way it feels. It's very hard to train for it - you have to do it in order to prepare for it. You can go out and do 30km intervals all day long, but it's not the same as getting on the start ramp," Armstrong explained.
"When I was warming up, I was asking myself, 'Am I nervous?' In the last time trial of the 2003 Tour when it was raining, I was nervous then. But I had nothing to worry about today. It was a good test and I can't complain."
Armstrong rode his special 'Livestrong' Trek Equinox time trial bike which had returned after a bit of misadvanture following the Sacramento prologue last weekend. The bike was stolen, but returned on Wednesday. "It was kind of cool the thing actually came back - we still don't know how it came back, but it came back," he said.