Prediction: Armstrong will not win seven
Lance Armstrong will not win the Tour de France this year.
Lance Armstrong will not win the Tour de France this year. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>
His time is up.
This is not to say that he is out of shape or that he has lost his will to win. It?s a safe bet that Armstrong will arrive at the Prologue on July 2 in winning form, as he always does. Yes, some of his performances during the past spring have raised questions, but Armstrong knows how to prepare. This year will be no different.
Armstrong?s problem is not with himself. It is with his challengers -- the legitimate ones.
This year, there are just too many of them, too many with proven talent, too many with experience and youth going for them.
These challengers have already shown they can handle the Tour. Injuries, team problems, questionable tactics and other problems have played havoc with their chances in the past.
But the odds are this year that someone will emerge who will finally put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.
In the past U.S. Postal Service (now Discovery Channel) outshone all other teams at the Tour but this year CSC, T-Mobile and Phonak seem formidable and there may be surprises elsewhere. And there can be no doubt that Armstrong?s Discovery Channel will be weakened by the absence of Viatcheslav Ekimov.
Who will step up and challenge Armstrong? Here is a list of possibilities ? all significantly younger than Armstrong, all well-experienced in the Tour, and all with the potential to beat him: Ivan Basso (CSC) Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile), Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Alejandro Valverde (Illes Ballears), Roberto Heras (Liberty Segurous-Wurth), Floyd Landis (Phonak), Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears).
It is not just the calibre of Armstrong?s opposition this year. Armstrong has presented his 2005 challengers with another, even more compelling advantage: a compelling motivation for going out there and beating him.
Armstrong has announced his retirement, to take effect after the 2005 Tour de France. This will be his last race.
To beat a still-battling, competitive Armstrong in 2005 will be to assume his mantle of Tour de France champion (and these days, premiere cyclist in the world) by, as it were, toppling the king.
To win the Tour in 2006 will no doubt be prestigious ? but whoever does win in 2006 will not have vanquished Lance Armstrong.
Bernard Thevenet won the 1975 Tour by edging out Eddy Merckx. Merckx, even though he won the Tour one less time than Armstrong now has, was arguably a far more dominant rider than Armstrong. It?s not for nothing he was called by his fellow riders the Cannibal.
To win the Tour with him in the race ? it was something special. Merckx who suffered a broken cheekbone in a fall in the latter stages of the 1975 Tour, stayed in the race to the end in spite of medical advice that he retire.