By Kirsten Robbins
Three months into Lance Armstrong's cycling comeback and there is speculation as to how prepared the seven-time Tour de France winner will be for this year's event, come July. According to Johan Bruyneel there is no doubt that Armstrong will be a force amongst the Tour contenders. Just how much of a force is yet to be discovered.
"I don't think we are going to know how far he can go in the Tour de France until he does the Giro d'Italia," Bruyneel said. "The Giro is going to be a learning process also because it's been so long. We don't know how he is going to recover, we don't know how he is going to be in the hills and what condition he will be in. It makes it interesting and challenging because everyday we don't know what is going to happen."
Armstrong made large improvements in his early season events at Australia's Tour Down Under in January where he placed 29th overall to the USA's Tour of California in February where he placed seventh overall. "I was surprised with his level of fitness at the Tour of California," Bruyneel said. "I hope he can keep that progress and keep improving. We also know that we have to be realistic [about the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia] because after three years they will be very difficult. He has to work a lot harder than he did before and he knows that."
Whether Armstrong is winning himself or working for another teammate, his presence heightens the level of competition within Astana and at the races. "If we are talking about the Tour de France, he is totally ready to be there," said Bruyneel, regarding concerns that competing in the Grand Tours might be difficult after a three-year retirement.
"There are so many strong riders on this team and maybe he is going to be a teammate like he was at the Tour of California," he continued. "But I think at the same time having him around, independently of what his results could be, he really brings everyone to a higher level. For me that is the best thing that I can see right now. As soon as he showed up... the other years it was a game on a bike and this year it is a race on a bike."
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