Posted by: mdegeorge | February 16, 2011

Retirement 2.0: Remembering Lance’s last two seasons

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 will forever enter the annals of history as the date Lance Armstrong called time on his illustrious cycling career… again. In what he calls “Retirement 2.0”, Armstrong has vowed never to ride in a professional peloton again, reneging on an earlier agreement to end his international career in January’s Tour Down Under and ride domestically in selected races in 2011.

So to honor the drawing of the curtains on the career of one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports—and also partially because I can’t find this list anywhere else on the great big Internet—here’s a description of just what exactly Armstrong’s second stint in the peloton consisted of.

 

Lance ascendes the Col de Columbiere on Stage 17 in the 2009 Tour de France (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

 

 

2009

Tour Down Under

Finish: 29th overall (+ :49)

Armstrong returns to the peloton and mainly stays in the pack without making much noise as expected. He’s only 49 seconds off the pace and while he doesn’t quite look himself on the bike as Bill Strickland explains in his book, Tour de Lance, he’s right where he needs to be in the eyes of Astana directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel and Sean Yates, the team direct in Australia that week.

Tour of California

Finish: Seventh overall (+ 1:46)

Armstrong vows to play protector to Levi Leipheimer in the latter’s hunt for a third straight TOC win. He does just that after narrowly missing the yellow jersey in the opening prologue, finishing four seconds back. He stays with the pack for the most part in the big mountains and doesn’t try and attack while guarding Leipheimer’s early lead, though he does loose almost a minute and a quarter to his countryman in the 24-kilometer time trial.

Milan San-Remo

Finish: 125th (+ 8:19)

Armstrong stays with the pack early but got dropped into a big group on the final ascents in his first race back on European roads. The one-day classics were never a strong suit for the Texan, and a win isn’t a realistic expectation. The race also isn’t originally in the cards, with Paris-Nice, the nixed Tour de Georgia, and the Dauphine Libere more likely destinations until he elects to ride the Giro d’Italia.

Vuelta a Castilla y Leon

Finish: Abandoned, Stage 1

In treacherous road conditions, Armstrong meets the tarmac in a crazy opening stage. It leaves him with a broken collarbone, one of the few serious injuries he’s ever incurred on the road. The injury shelves him for around a month and originally put his Giro start in doubt, though he recovers quicker than originally expected. More pertinently, it is the first race in which Astana’s two potential leaders, Armstrong and Alberto Contador, race together. Contador finishes second behind Leipheimer, who grabs the lead in the Stage 2 time trial of the five-stage race and isn’t challenged by good-teammate Contador thereafter.

Tour of the Gila

Finish: Second (+ 3:01)

In what is largely a make-it-or-break-it confidence booster engineered by Bruyneel, Armstrong, Leipheimer, and Chris Horner don the colors of the makeshift Mellow Johnny’s team to compete in a race alongside semi-pro and local legends well outside view of the European heavyweights (many of whom are left shaking their heads). Leipheimer notches yet another win, but more important is the dominance displayed by an Armstrong rounding into pre-Giro former behind the peloton-pounding workhorse Horner.

Giro D’Italia

Finish: 12th (+ 15:59)

Armstrong’s Astana time-trialing machine has him 13 seconds back after Stage 1, and smart riding in the early spring stages means he isn’t caught out on breaks in the field caused by hectic sprints. He’s in the top 10 as he hits the Alps, but loses time on a few early mountain stages, but strengthens as the race proceeds to stay with the leaders and shepherd Leipheimer to a sixth-place finish. He acquits himself well in the time trials in his first career appearance in the first grand tour of the season. Most of all, he proves his 38-year-old body can withstand a three-week grand tour while showing he recovered sufficiently from the broken collarbone.

Nevada City Classic

Finish: First

Armstrong finally notches a win as he continues to prep for the Tour off the beaten path in the supremely challenging 44 mile criterium. The field, which includes Lance’s shadow, Leipheimer (second), and continental pros like Ben Jacques-Maynes, doesn’t exactly make for a world-class triumph.

Tour de France

Finish: Third (+ 5:24)

Lance’s Tour reappearance is legendary, if for no other reason than that it falls on the opposite side of the historical ledger as his previous runs. He is tenth in the opening time trial and narrowly misses out on the yellow jersey after the Stage 4 team time trial that is retained by Fabian Cancellara by 220 milliseconds. By Stage 7, Contador hits the mountains in his native Spain and vaults over Armstrong to earn the coveted protection as team leader. They stand two-three just two seconds apart and six and eight, respectively, behind leader Rinaldo Nocentini through Stage 15 (including the controversial Stage 14 that sees Contador’s late push deny Armstrong’s friend and loyal compatriot George Hincapie denied yellow by four seconds). Contador proceeds to blow the doors off everyone expect Andy Schleck starting with the Col de Verbier, and holds off the double-team by the Brothers Schleck while Armstrong is often relegated to the second group on the road. A gutsy effort on Mont Ventoux behind the Schlecks-Contador triumvirate keeps him in fourth, and he ascends the podium for an eighth time thanks to a strong individual time trial.

Tour of Ireland

Finish: Did Not Start, Stage 3

With a sore back and a desire to escape a third consecutive day of riding in the rain, Armstrong decides enough is enough and heads home before the final day of racing.

Fall season

Relaxing the only way someone of Armstrong’s abilities can, he hits the western circuit in the fall. While he eschewes the Tour de Gruene, in which he won the time trial stage in 2008, he opts for some mountain bike races. He wins the Leadville 100 in a record time after finishing second the previous season, and adds a victory in the Colorado Pro Cross-Country Championships.

2010

Tour Down Under

Finish: 25th (+ 1:03)

Lance debuts his Team RadioShack colors in 2010 by simply finding his legs in Australia. The placing reflects a lot of hanging with the pack in a sprint-heavy, rolling race.

Vuelta a Murcia

Finish: Seventh (+ 1:23)

Armstrong gets dropped on the big climb in the Queen Stage, Stage 4, by eventually winner Frantisek Ribon, but stays in close enough contact to finish in the top 10 in a race that lacks his bread and butter, the time trial.

Criterium International

Finish: 47th (+ 5:05)

A poor day one in which he is dropped on the final climb makes Armstrong’s strong showing in the stage three time trial largely irrelevant (though in fairness, teammate turned rival Contador also gets dropped on the same climb, and it is on the heels of a decent showing in Murica). It’s the start of a rocky early European season.

Tour of Flanders

Finish: 27th (+ 2:35)

In place of the Giro, Lance and Bruyneel opt for a traditional spring classics schedule, with brutal events like Milan-San Remo, Amstel Gold Race, Tour of Flanders, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege on the agenda. Of those four, Flanders is the only one Lance makes it to, thanks in large part to a bout of gastroenteritis incurred in Belgium. It’s the last time he rides in Europe until June.

Tour of the Gila

Finish: 18th (+ 6:53)

Armstrong’s talismanic race features a much deeper field thanks to the Mellow Johnny’s boys’ presence (David Zabriskie, Tom Danielson, Floyd Landis, and other top domestic pros make the trip to New Mexico). Without powerhouse Horner and thanks to top lieutenant Jason McCartney shepherding Leipheimer to a second straight win, Armstrong loses time, including over three minutes on the final stage he was so strong at in 2009, to fade well off the pace.

Amgen Tour of California

Finish: Abandon, Stage 5

Armstrong looks content to hang in the pack, as Garmin (with early leader Zabriskie) and HTC-Columbia (with eventual winner Michael Rogers) take control early. Though he’s outside of the top 10, the race isn’t a total loss until Lance hits the pavement on the road out of Visalia, earning him an ambulance ride to the hospital.

Tour of Luxembourg

Finish: Third (+ :30)

A move on Stage 2 led by hometown hero Frank Schleck that drags Matteo Carrara to the leader’s jersey separates is all that separates the latter from the field. He takes 36 seconds out of Armstrong that day, who does show the ability to make the second group on the road, but he’s unable to attack and get back the rest of the margin in a relatively thin field. Nonetheless, it’s the best result of the European so far and goes a long way towards healing the still fresh wounds from the California roads.

Tour of Switzerland

Finish: Second (+ :12)

Armstrong hits the high mountain passes and proves he can stay with the pack, sticking close to Frank Schleck after he escapes early to set a margin over the rest of the competitors. A torrid time trial won by Tony Martin almost gives Armstrong enough time to surpass Schleck on the final day, one of the few good time trialing performances by the former shoo-in for a Tour TT win or two.

Tour de France

Finish: 23rd (+ 39:20)

To say luck isn’t on Armstrong’s side during his ride through the French countryside is a stunning understatement. He starts out well enough, positioning himself in fourth just 22 seconds back of prologue winner Cancellara. But he hits the deck during Stage 1, punctures a tire on Stage 3, and crashes twice in Stage 8 en route to Morzine-Avoriaz, hemorrhaging 12 minutes and effectively ending any hopes of a yellow jersey. With the elastic resolutely broken, Armstrong reverts to the lieutenant role for Leipheimer and then Horner. His last hurrah comes on Stage 16, a devilish stage into Pau over the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aubisque when he and Horner climb into the breakaway but are outwitted to the line by Pierrick Fedrigo. The only bright side of the effort is that it solidifies the team’s lead in the team classification and takes Horner into the top 10, a career highlight for the long-time domestique that he carries to Paris.

2011

Tour Down Under

After first announcing that the TDU will be his final international race, Armstrong travels to Australia with relatively little notoriety. His performance is consummate: he finishes 67th, a distant 6:42 behind winner Cameron Meyer in a largely flat, rolling race.

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Responses

  1. […] Ask Lance Armstrong about comebacks that involve proving something. Armstrong admitted sitting at home watching the 2008 Tour de France thinking he still had more […]


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