Armstrong Looks His Age As He Fails To Keep Up With Pack
Bruyneel: "We knew he would not be at his best physically at this stage of the season."
Lance Armstrong looked his age when he failed to follow the main pack in the first stage of the Criterium International on Saturday.
The 38-year-old American, seven times a Tour de France champion, finished four minutes, 51 seconds off the pace after struggling in the closing 14.2-km final ascent to the Col de l'Ospedale.
Armstrong's early-season preparations were then called into question when he crossed the finish line in the shade of stone pines above the sunbathed bay of Porto Vecchio.
"I think you can only get that burst of speed you need (in the last ascent) by taking part in stage races," his RadioShack team manager and long-time mentor Johan Bruyneel told reporters.
"We knew he would not be at his best physically at this stage of the season," added Bruyneel, the man behind Armstrong's seven Tour wins.
"He has not taken part in many races this year so it is logical he was not able (to follow the pace) today. Plus he told me in the penultimate climb he was not having a good day."
After sitting out the Milan-San Remo classic last Saturday because of gastro-enteritis, Armstrong flew to Paris on Monday with wife Anna to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of his most famous fans.
He then went to meet former Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon on Tuesday before flying to southern France where he owns a house.
"One hour after landing he was on his bike for training," RadioShack sports director Alain Gallopin told Reuters.
According to Bruyneel, that is not enough.
"He always trains by himself but what you need is to take part in stage races," said the Belgian.
"You need to wake up every morning at the same time, eat (at the same time), recuperate, it's routine."
Asked when Armstrong would get back to that sort of routine, he laughed and said: "Yes, that's a good question.
"In May or June I think with the Tour of California and then the Dauphine Libere or the Tour of Switzerland.
"There will be more training in the mountains. There is still a lot of time but there is still a lot of work," said Bruyneel.
Armstrong, who this year has only ridden in the Tour Down Under in January, the Tour of Murcia earlier this month and a low-key, one-day race in South Africa in mid-March, acknowledged he could be in better shape.
"Hanging around when you've got four kids you always manage to pick up whatever they have and I had a hard time knocking it (the gastro-enteritis)," said Armstrong who had a towel wrapped around his neck.
"I did not have the feeling my body was working that good today but that's okay, it will pass."
Bruyneel said: "If there one thing I don't doubt it's his motivation."