Do you, like me, get caught up in the excitement of the Tour de France, watching coverage of the race on TV each day? I am in awe of just how grueling the 3,500 km (2, 175 mile) race is – – and in awe of the mental and physical endurance those riders have who come through the 21 day race successfully.
One of the returning riders this year after three years off is 37-year-old seven- time winner of the Tour, Lance Armstrong. He’s one of several top riders on the Astana team that also includes podium finishers Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloeden.
As the race began yesterday, one of the stories unfolding was how the Astana team director Johan Bruyneel had assigned Lance a support rather than lead role. Spaniard Alberto Contador was named the team lead. He won the Tour in 2007.
Support riders are also called “domestiques” by competitive cyclists. They may be asked to ride ahead and shield the lead rider from the wind, escort them up the mountains, or fetch water bottles from the team car trailing the racers. There’s speculation that Lance won’t be content in his role as a support rider, letting Alberto Contador lead the Astana team.
Personally, I think Lance will do whatever is good for the team. When the team was going through some financial difficulties earlier this summer, potentially jeopardizing their participation in the Tour, Lance worked to find another sponsor for the team. Contador on the other hand, shopped his name around with other teams. It also depends on Lance’s motivation to return to the tour. If he is doing it to help further his charitable work, Bruyneel’s gamble may pay off.
Those of you who disagree may point to the rivalry between French racer Bernard Hinault and American Greg LeMond in 1986 who were both racing on La Vie Claire. Having won the Tour five times, Hinault promised to help Lemond win it in 1986. Greg Lemond would eventually win, despite repeated attacks from his teammate.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. One thing for sure though, if Contador is to remain in the lead with Lance his lieutenant, he will have to show early on he is the boss.
Photo credit: xue891