Originally created 07/17/02

Armstrong waits for mountains



BORDEAUX, France -- For those who think Lance Armstrong is in trouble because he lost an important stage in the Tour de France, the Texan has a word of advice - wait.

"The others look at it as a chink, as maybe a guy who's past his prime," the three-time champion told reporters Tuesday, a day after placing second in an individual time trial. "They look at it as a guy who's going down.

"Maybe I'm over the hill, maybe they're right. I just would not make that judgment until we're done with the three weeks. It's a long race, and it's the Tour de France."

Armstrong was tapped to win the time trial and take the leader's yellow jersey he lost in the first stage. Instead, Colombia's Santiago Botero beat him by 11 seconds, and Spaniard Igor Gonzalez Galdeano remained at the top of the race standings.

Gonzalez Galdeano has a 26-second lead on Armstrong through nine stages. Wednesday's stage is to take riders on a flat 91.1-mile stretch from Bazas to Pau at the foot of the Pyrenees.

"I didn't always expect to win long time trials," Armstrong, 30, said. "You can't go every year without a bad day."

So far this year, the U.S. Postal Service rider has had several of those. Apart from Monday's time trial, he was involved in a crash Saturday that cost him 27 seconds. Without that delay, as Armstrong points out, he likely would be wearing the yellow jersey.

Even though riders have completed nine stages and a prologue, this year's Tour de France barely has begun. The race for the title is won and lost in the grueling mountain stages, which begin Thursday and are Armstrong's specialty.

"In these two days we'll know a lot," Armstrong said, referring to Thursday's trek from Pau to La Mongie high in the Pyrenees, and Friday's mountainous stage between Lannemezan and the Plateau-de-Beille.

"Sometimes I feel like such a momentum rider. You get the momentum going, you feel good, you win a stage, you get the (yellow) jersey, and all of a sudden you feel great," he said.

"We don't have that. It's not that we're going backward, but we don't have any momentum."

Last year, Armstrong took control of the race by winning the opening mountain stage between Aix-Les-Bains and L'Alpe d'Huez.

Memorably, he bluffed early in the stretch, grimacing in apparent pain as he trailed his main rival, Jan Ullrich. But in the final climb, he sprinted past the German to claim victory and open a huge lead.

Armstrong ruled out similar tricks in Thursday's stage.

"The bluff happened on the road. That wasn't the plan at the meeting the night before or at the meeting in the morning," he said. "That happened 100 kilometers (60 miles) into the race. I just made it up there."

"There's no plan for La Mongie."

Armstrong said he was surprised at the media buzz surrounding Gonzalez Galdeano. At the end of last year's tour, the Spaniard was 13:28 behind Armstrong.

"I was reading all of this stuff, (how) this is such a big war between Armstrong and Galdeano, and I thought, 'I've got to look at the tour last year,"' Armstrong said.

He consulted the 2001 stage results, and saw he finished 4 minutes ahead of Gonzalez Galdeano at L'Alpe d'Huez, and 2 1/2 minutes ahead at Chamrousse, also in the Alps.

"These are big chunks of time," Armstrong said. "I never feel safe, but I wonder sometimes where such confidence comes from, when there's been no precedent- or rather where the buzz comes from.

"There has to be a buzz about something, so let's have a buzz."

However, Armstrong said he thinks his rivals this year are stronger than Ullrich, who placed second in 2000 and 2001. The Telekom rider is absent this year because of injury.

"It seems like the level of the field is better this year," he said. "Look at yesterday's (Monday's) results, the tight time differences. You never see that in the Tour de France."

He said with such strong competition, it is impossible to predict the outcome of the upcoming mountain stages.

"I might get dropped, I might get 5 minutes behind," Armstrong said. "I don't know."