By Mark Zalewski in Santa Rosa, California
"Tough day!" is how Lance Armstrong (Astana) described Sunday's rain-soaked road stage at the Tour of California, his first road race on US soil since retiring from professional racing nearly four years ago. "I was thinking that a year ago I was in St. Barts on a beach!"
"I was cold today," he said frankly. "That was one of the hardest days I've had to do. My hands were good, but my feet were not!"
After race leader Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) pulled out of the event, the golden jersey was up for grabs and Astana shouldered a lot of the responsibility to chase breakaway rider Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing). Due to communication issues however, the chasing started too little, too late.
"Obviously if you don't catch somebody you can always say you should have started earlier," said Armstrong. "But it worked out alright. I think for the [time trial] Levi can take that back. The tough guys were still with us – Zabriskie, Michael Rogers... [it was a] hard day."
Armstrong also had a scare on the wet roads, when Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) crashed and hit his rear wheel, causing it to flat. Then, during the chase later in the stage, it was like being back in the old days, with directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel yelling into the team's radio.
"Horner, he killed us! He killed us up the hill and then down was a hard day," Armstrong explained. "We were still going hard downhill. Then in the end it was full-on team time trial, with Johan yelling at us!"