Text by Christian Camerota
A few years ago, Lance Armstrong wouldn’t have considered
the Arc of Triumph a fitting place to finish third in the Tour de France.
But with age comes perspective.
The Tour concluded Sunday on a 164 km ride from Montereau-Fault-Yonne to
Paris’ Champs-Élysées, with Mark Cavendish sprinting easily to his sixth
stage win of the race. As expected, Spain’s Alberto Contador held
onto the yellow jersey and claimed the victor’s bowl with an overall time
of 85 hours, 48 minutes, and 35 seconds.
Contador’s 4:11 margin of victory over second place Andy Schleck was the
largest since Armstrong in 2005, and marked the fourth consecutive year
a Spaniard has won. One of the only gaffes of Contador’s Tour came
as he stood atop the podium and was greeted with a brief portion of the
Danish national anthem before technicians realized their mistake and switched
Armstrong, meanwhile, returned from a four year cycling hiatus and a broken
collarbone in March to finish 5:11 back in third place. Defying skeptics
and, some would say, the laws of Nature, the testicular cancer survivor
faced a range of challenges, including 13 separate doping tests during
the race, 2,141 miles of world class riding, and intense media scrutiny.
In the grand scheme of things, Armstrong considers himself to have
“If you asked me to say one word,” he responded when asked to describe
the race, “I would say it’s been a healthy experience.”
Even the French, notorious for their criticism of the American rider, seem
to have moved past their antipathy to embrace him, with many of the same
papers that lanced Armstrong years ago for cheating and bristling at questions
now lauding him for his remarkable return. His fellow riders had
similar compliments, with Christian Vande Velde saying early on that Armstrong
was “the happiest man in the peloton.”
Perhaps the only person not pulling for Armstrong was his sometime teammate
and full-time rival, Contador. The rivalry between the two was, inarguably,
the most publicized portion of this year’s Tour and was even on Contador’s
mind after his victory.
When asked what the race’s hardest moment was, Contador admitted, “It
was in the [team] hotel.” Armstrong, magnanimous in word if not
quite as sharp in form this year, offered genuine perspective on the situation.
“Obviously it’s been a bit challenging,” he said in an interview with
ESPNhe said in an interview with
ESPNhe said in an interview with
ESPN. “First of all, [Contador] is damn good. But he’s very competitive,
which I appreciate. I know what that’s like. So, you have
two guys who are competitive, two guys who want to win, it was bound to
be tense and nerve-racking…you had two guys who weren’t the best of buds.
But one won and the other was third…we got what we wanted, he got
what he wanted, I’m happy with what I got. And we’ll be back next
year on separate teams.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Though their team won the race by a 22:35 margin, neither Armstrong nor
Contador is expected to compete with Astana in 2010. Armstrong recently
announced he will start his own cycling team, sponsored by RadioShack,
and may be taking Astana’s coach, Johan Bruyneel (whom he credits for
mending the team’s rifts and helping them to victory) with him.
The 2010 Tour will surely be one to watch, with Armstrong and Contador
pitted against each other openly instead of tacitly, and a slew of other
up-and-coming riders flanking them. 24-year-old Andy Schleck finished
second this year and won the white jersey as the Tour’s best young rider,
Franco Pellizotti of Italy earned the polka-dot jersey for being King of
the Mountains, and Thor Hushovd of Norway earned the green jersey for being
the Tour’s best sprinter, narrowly edging out the exciting and powerful
Assuming he can endure another offseason of grueling training and can stand
another year of 53 out-of-competition doping control tests (the number
he faced this year, more than anyone else in the sport to his knowledge),
Armstrong will return again to find the competition likely even more fierce
and his own body another year older. But Armstrong displayed a new
character trait in 2009 that will suit him well as he ages and continues
to strive: patience.
“I don’t have the acceleration, the power that I had then,” he said
in reference to previous Tours. “I’ve got to look at the race differently…now,
I’m having to ride my own race and be smart about it. We were close
to where we were before, which was interesting, but we just came across
some riders that were damn strong.”