VAISON-LA-ROMAINE, France, AP
Just as fans and rivals are getting used to his amazing feats in the mountains, Lance Armstrong wants to slow down.
On Tuesday, the Tour de France was headed for the Alps, where the Texan took control of last year’s race with memorable wins at L’Alpe d’Huez and Chamrousse.
This time, he’s on course to win the title — his fourth in a row — even before the Alps, and doesn’t want to risk losing time by being unnecessarily aggressive there.
“The smart thing to do is to ride conservative now,” Armstrong said Sunday. “This is not a race to win by as many seconds or minutes as possible, it’s a race just to win. So there’s no need to be aggressive.”
Because the three stages in the Alps come late in the Tour, when riders are very tired, those who race hard and fast this last week risk suddenly losing form as exhaustion strikes.
It happened to Armstrong two years ago, when he struggled in the last mountain leg and saw his overall lead shrink by nearly two minutes.
However, the U.S. Postal Service rider was flawless in every mountain stage last year, and now he says he’s most concerned about what happens after the Alps.
“Everybody talks about the three days in the Alps,” he said. “But then you have a day (with) not one meter that’s flat, you have like seven or eight holes, a fairly long stage, it could be hot. Those are the days that worry you.”
He was referring to Friday’s 18th stage, a very hilly 176.5-kilometer (109.4-mile) run from Cluses to Bourg-en-Bresse. Saturday’s stage is an individual time trial, which Armstrong is favored to win, while Sunday’s last stage, which ends on the Champs Elysees, is little more than a victory lap.
Armstrong is highly likely to keep the overall leader’s yellow jersey until the finish on July 28. He leads his main rival, Spaniard Joseba Beloki, by 4 minutes and 21 seconds in the race standings.
Even if Armstrong doesn’t ride aggressively in the Alps, Beloki is unlikely to reduce the American’s lead.
The first three mountain stages — two in the Pyrenees and one ending on the Mont Ventoux — showed the Once rider was unable to match Armstrong’s strength. He will almost certainly be more tired and even weaker in the Alpine stretches.
Tuesday’s stage was to take riders on a 226.5-kilometer (140.4-mile) trek from Vaison-la-Romaine in the southern Provence region to Les Deux Alpes, a ski station. It is the longest stage of the three-week Tour.