Team RadioShack was pleased with the opening stage of Criterium International, despite Grand Tour winner Lance Armstrong dropping just short of five minutes on the Ospedale climb in Corsica. While Armstrong trundled across the line behind Yaroslav Popovych, RadioShack had already taken second place with Tiago Machado and put Christopher Horner and Ben Hermans into the top 10.
“My day was not very spectacular, I can tell you that, but I couldn’t expect it to be,” said Armstrong. “It was a bit of a technical and tactical climb with the wind, that’s why we had a lot of surprises.
“Team RadioShack has to be happy. I didn’t have the best day but it’s good to get a team result,” he added. “Personally I didn’t expect anything else. I did not have many races before like other guys. We’re in March, if we had this discussion in July, yeah I’d be disappointed, but it’s March 20 or whatever.”
Criterium International is Armstrong’s first race since a charity trip to South Africa, where he contested the Giro del Capo. Gastroenteritis left him out of Milan-San Remo and since Armstrong has spent time in France with President Nicolas Sarkozy and also Laurent Fignon, another former Tour de France winner who is battling cancer.
“My stomach is still not as good as I’d like it to be,” said Armstrong. “When you’ve got four kids, you always manage to get what they have. At the beginning of today’s stage I thought I’d be really, really good or really bad and it was the latter.
“Tomorrow it’s not a conventional time trial, it’s a weird day with a morning stage and the time change [daylight savings] but I’ll go as hard as I can,” he added.
RadioShack team director Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong’s lacklustre performance was expected. “Lance’s condition is not bad,” Bruyneel said. “We expected what happened today. It was a violent race. He’s fighting the lack of competition and high speed.
“It didn’t work out for Contador as he wanted as well,” he added. “It’s part of cycling. You can try and want to be good but when you don’t have the legs, you can’t do what you want.”
Bruyneel was with the team’s general condition and obviously satisfied with Machado’s second place. While he believes the Portuguese rider posses a lot of talent, it’s unlikely he’ll feature in the team’s Tour de France roster until 2011.
“Last year I saw good things from him, although he wasn’t really a professional, he still has a lot to learn,” he said. “With the strength he has, he could have stayed all the way with Pierrick Fedrigo. He’s got a good future but it’s impossible for him to be at the Tour de France this year. We don’t want to put him under pressure.”
Machado wasn’t the only newcomer in Bruyneel’s outfit that shone on the Ospedale climb. Belgian Hermans also produced an impressive ride to cross the line with Horner.
“It’s true I’ve done a good race but I’m not surprised by that, I was more surprised that I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted at the other races before,” said the 23-year-old
“We’ve been strong as a team,” added Horner. “Tiago jumped to the front and I protected his move from behind. We helped him to be up there and he met our expectations.”
Machado and Hermans both have a good reputation as time triallists, giving RadioShack hope of a strong overall result at Criterium International.