In dramatic fashion, Lance Armstrong has returned to the Tour de France. And it looks like he will be returning again.
Right now, it's a thrilling two-man race between the young gun and winner of three grand tours, Alberto Contador, and the cagey old veteran and winner of seven Tours de France, Armstrong. And while the end result may not be clear until next weekend on the huge mountain finish up Mount Ventoux and the Paris time trial, we have learned one thing. Lance Armstrong just doesn't know the word quit. He intends to return to the Tour next year.
Click Below to View Our Gallery of Lance’s Life
"He plans on being back for sure," Armstrong's longtime business partner Bart Knaggs said Saturday. "He'll be back with a team with a clear role. Racing to win the Tour de France next year."
And given the form he's shown this year, why not?
He’s looked solid in the time trial, on the flats, and in the mountains. He’s been the elder statesman advocating for his cause off the bike as well as the presumptive “boss” in the peloton.
So far this year, he helped deliver Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer to his third consecutive Tour of California after riding in the Tour Down Under, and after recovering from a broken collarbone suffered in a race in Spain, raced a wild and crazy Giro d’Italia for the first time. And now he’s in serious contention for a podium position in this year’s Tour. He started off the first of 21 stages of this Tour de France with a 10th-place finish in the opening time trial, 40 seconds back from the winner, and 22 seconds behind his intra-team rival, Alberto Contador.
True to his experience in the peloton, Armstrong was in the right place at the right time in stage three when winds off the Mediterranean caused a break in the race that gave a group of 25 riders a 41-second gain over the rest of the peloton—including Contador. Ironically, other riders who missed the break blamed Contador for causing the break. That day Lance launched into third place overall, 40 seconds behind the leader and 19 seconds ahead of Contador.
Armstrong and Contador took a break from their personal duel to eliminate any doubts that they were the strongest team in the race. They won the team time trial by 18 seconds over the second-place Garmin-Slipstream team and took even larger chunks of time out of their overall (general classification) rivals on the other teams.
The Armstrong-Contador drama continued on the climb up to Arcalis in stage seven when Contador unexpectedly attacked “against the team plan” and gained 21 seconds on Armstrong, who played the good teammate and sat on the wheel of the only threatening rider, allowing Contador to get away.
The tension and drama have simmered for days on the team bus, in the peloton, and in the media as the riders await the next chance to determine who will be the leader of Astana on the climb up to the finish today in Verbier.
It would not have been much of a surprise if this year’s Tour didn’t live up to the hype. How could it possibly? But the Tour has lived up to and surpassed all expectations. Even one member of the French media, known for being a thorn in Armstrong’s side, stood up during an early press conference and thanked him for making the Tour interesting again.
Returning after a three-year absence, at an age most bike riders have retired, with 12 screws in his shoulder from a crash just two months ago, Armstrong has exceeded extraordinarily high expectations. The scary part is that with his own team next year that is likely to include Johan Bruyneel and a cast of riders of his own choosing, Armstrong will likely be an even stronger contender next year.
The Tour is back, Lance is back, and he’ll be back again…next year.
Mark McKinnon is on the Lance Armstrong Foundation Board. As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.