Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré preview

Preview by Anthony Tan A Tour de France contender's final race preparations invariably consist of...

Second-last call: Armstrong to the start line

Preview by Anthony Tan

A Tour de France contender's final race preparations invariably consist of one of two races: the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré or the Tour de Suisse.

It would be madness to do both, which in part explains the reason why the two are run semi-concurrently, with the last two days of the Dauphiné Libéré overlapping with the first two stages of the Tour de Suisse.

In the last six years, six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has participated in five editions of the Dauphiné (1999-2000, 2002-04) and just once at the Tour de Suisse (2001). During that time, he's had a 50 percent strike rate in coming out on top, beating Gilberto Simoni for the Tour de Suisse title in 2001 and winning the Dauphiné in 2002 and 2003; not a bad effort for someone who's always used the race as a warm-up for the Tour.

However, it seems that as the now 33 year-old Texan grows older, he's had to tame his voracious appetite for winning. In last year's Dauphiné, it was clear he was holding back - particularly on the fourth stage TT to Le Mont Ventoux, where he finished almost two minutes behind eventual winner Iban Mayo from Euskaltel-Euskadi. Mayo went on to a very lacklustre performance in July, eventually quitting the race, while Armstrong crushed his rivals in yet another flawless demonstration of measured strength, cunning and teamwork.

This year - his last as a professional cyclist - he's likely to do the same at Le Dauphiné: no heroics, just controlled efforts, making sure he'll be where he wants to be come the Tour. Of course, if there's an opportunity to win, don't count him out.

Needless to say, the 2005 edition is an exciting one: two time trials and six challenging road stages spread over 1,136.4 kilometres with 12,820 metres of climbing, all held in the southeast of France and all encouraging aggressive riding.

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