Lance Armstrong Takes on the Tour de France

Lance Armstrong descended on Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 5 to kick off his popular THEMOVE podcast, teaming up with Outside again to provide daily coverage of the Tour de France. Back are the bold predictions, ultimate insider analysis, and perhaps the only truly independent look at cycling’s premier stage race. As you might imagine with Lance being the sport’s persona non grata, he’s beholden to no one.

The Move Podcast

Lance Armstrong shares his perspective on the 2018 TdF

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In the race preview, he weighs in on the route (rowdy), Chris Froome’s drama (dysfunctional), and, after some teeth pulling from his co-host JB Hager, eventually picks a winner (tune in for that). Beginning July 6 and ending with the final stage in Paris on July 29, we’ll be hosting THEMOVE and providing a daily overview of each episode’s highlights.

Stage 2: Shit Teams, TTT Geek Fest, and Projectile Sweating

Patron (Boss) of the Day: Sylvain Chavanel, in his 18th Tour, has to be our Patron of the Day. For 100 miles he was off the front either with younger guys or by himself. Of course, after 18 tours he has enough experience to know that he has very little chance. But he got four hours on TV. And he won the day’s most combative award. It’s good for him and his sponsors. For those who watched my career closely, you’ll know that Chavanel and I did five tours together. In 2003, you might recall the incident where I unclipped and took the top tube in the cojone. That was him that I caught and patted on the shoulder later. He was a kid then, but he was a great guy.

An Aside About Tour Patrons: Back in the day, there wasn’t much unity in the peloton among riders. The only thing I remember them protesting was drug testing, if you can believe that. Imagine if they did that today. But the early Patrons would occasionally speak for the peloton. If you know your Tour history you might know that groups used to draw attention to their causes by blocking the roads along the Tour. One day a bunch of shipyard workers blocked the road in a protest. Bernard Hinault came flying through the stopped pack with a head of steam and popped a guy on the chin to end it. I don’t much care for Hinault, but I liked that.

Lawson Craddock Update: His goal yesterday was to get through the night and try to start the day. He did that, but I got to imagine it doesn’t feel good, and he certainly didn’t look good—riding like a crab. He was smart to sit up at the end. He can’t hit the deck again. When they asked him how he was doing, he was like, ‘I took some ibuprofen.’ As a cyclist that’s all you can do. And that’s bulshit. The sport is chasing its tail so much that you can’t take anything more powerful than Advil. You might remember Vaughters and the bee sting incident where he couldn’t take a steroid to reduce the swelling around his eyes. Guys, stop. It’s the Tour de France, the hardest sporting event in the world. But for the athletes it’s the doormat of international sports. Tomorrow in the TTT, any bump in the road is going to go straight up Lawson’s triceps and into his broken scapula.

The Heat Is Hot: It was in the 90s today. I think that the guys take for granted that the stages will be cooler when they move farther north. You don’t expect it in the 90s. But you have to be prepared. You can’t get behind on the hydration because you can’t get caught back up. Hydration and heat are the biggest factors on performance. You saw Sagan at the finish today. He was projectile sweating.

The Move of the Day: Goes to Peter Sagan. I expected that. Looking at the course and expecting crashes I knew it favored him. There was a slight kickup. That’s advantage Sagan because he has more power and less speed compared to the pure sprinters. It makes him suited for uphill sprint finishes. He also always puts himself in the right place. Greipel missed the jump. Sagan doesn’t make those mistakes, and today he avoid a crash that very few cyclists could of. He will not be in the yellow jersey tomorrow night, but the Move of the Day was staying out of trouble.

TTT Geeking for Tomorrow's Stage 3: I love the team time trial because if you’re a GC guy you have to take it seriously and you have to become a leader. You have to talk to the guys on your team. You have to get them into the event. They hate it, the suffering is unreal. The first time I did it I was on a four man team. Torturous. But even with eight guys it’s painful. There’s an artistry to it. You’ve been in pacelines with your buddies so you have a vague idea of what it’s like. Now throw in rear disk wheels and aero bars. But it’s tactical, too, you can’t have all eight guys on aero bars, they wouldn’t be able to brake quickly enough and the group would crash. So the guys in back have to be on the drops to be prepared. Even recreational racers don’t know that the point is not to get to the front and accelerate. You never accelerate. The weakest guy is going to crack if you do. If you gap your weakest guy with three guys behind him, then it’s all over. If you feel good, the point is to go to the front and stay there without accelerating. Tomorrow Tom Dumoulin is just going to sit on the front and pull like the Big Mig [Miguel Indurain]) did back in the day. But at the end, the groups splits apart by design. Somebody—some bodies—will get dropped. If you finish with a full team you had a bad TTT. The weaker guys need to give one last pull and still make the cut off. It’s a race of truth for the team.

Fewer Riders Per Team or Fewer Teams Per Tour? [A comment from the gallery said fewer riders per team was a good idea. Lance takes issue with that.] If you want a two-day stage race you can do it with four-man teams, but for a three-week race you need eight or nine riders. I agree that we need fewer riders, though. In light of how they build roads, and in light of how fast the gear is, there should be fewer teams, but not fewer riders per team. They have to get rid of the shit teams. Take three shit teams out and the problem is solved.

— Armstrong

Stage 1: Crashes, Nerves, Guts, Grinta, and the Patron of the Day

Why So Skittish? There’s usually a prologue time trial. Riders get nervous about that. But they’re out there by themselves and it gets some of the nervousness out of the way. With no prologue you have the nerves of 200 fresh guys—the best cyclists in the world—competing for positioning on every turn. I knew this first week was going to be tumultuous and dramatic.

Froome’s Icy Reception: If you happened to watch the team presentations you probably noticed the chilly reception Froome got. The media did too. All the articles I read were about the hostile reception. It wasn’t surprising to me. I said that was going to happen. But the long story short is that there are other riders in the peloton that failed multiple tests and sat out entire seasons and nobody pays any attention to them. The tallest trees get all the wind.

No Drifting Back to Talk to a Buddy: A crash with 10K to go split the field. Sixty-three riders in the front. Everybody else lost. We see these crashes every year where the group has to sit up or stop. You have to stay up front. I would tell my guys: ‘We’re in the tour, you keep your ass in the front and we’re going to stay out of trouble. They’d say, ‘Yeah but I have some buddies back there.’ ‘Look,’ I’d tell them, ‘for the next three weeks, I’m your buddy.’

Crashes Getting More Common: My first tour was in ’93 as a 21-year-old. One difference is the crowds, there are more fans now. The other difference is the speeds. Our bikes weighed 23 pounds [now under 17 pounds]. Today, with deep dish carbon wheels and skinsuits, they’re literally going 50 percent faster than we were. Add in the fans and the dogs and the road furniture and the narrowing of roads all over the country, and when 15 people wide suddenly has to become seven you get crashes.

When the Field Splits: It takes about a minute for everyone to take inventory and see who’s here and who’s not. If you’re Peter Sagan, you know who’s in the back. If you’re a GC guy, you know Froome is behind. If you get that word on the radio, you go full gas.

Winners and Losers on the Day: Of the 63 guys in the front. Dumoulin, Nibali, Thomas, Bardet, Valverde, Uran, Martin, TJ, and Landa were the winners. Froome and Porte lost 51 seconds; Quintana more than a minute [1:15]. And I thought it was going to be boring today.

Grinta and the Patron of the Day: As soon as I tuned in this morning, I saw [Texan] Lawson Craddock leaning into the medical car—a big blow to the side of his head from a crash in a feed zone. For him to hang in there the rest of the day just kind of slumped over his bike and yo-yoing off the back…. And consider that he had a terrible season last year thanks to a horrible training program and this was his long-awaited return. I know what he’s thinking. ‘I have to finish.’ Grinta in Italian means… just fucking guts. How can he not be our Patron of the Day? [Craddock finished eight minutes back but made the cutoff. With a fractured shoulder blade and stitches to his brow, he’ll decide tomorrow if he can continue.]

Shouldn’t They Just Let Injured Riders Back in the Race? I don’t want to spend three weeks talking about how dysfunctional cycling is, but it’s the most dysfunctional of all sports. The UCI has some rules but ASO [tour organizers] has others and they can just decide to reinstate somebody. But who knows how they make those decisions? There’s not much compassion. Meanwhile, if the grupetto is 50 guys strong and they miss the time cut in the mountains, they’ll put them back in the race. And that’s bullshit.

More Cobble Talk: Are cobbles a bad idea? We get that question a lot. But Bernard Hinault said it was the Tour de “France.” And you have cobbles in northern France. Nibali and Dumoulin think it’s a good idea. Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re nail.

Next up, Stage 2: This peloton is still fresh. They’ll be fast and nervy. It’s a board flat stage. But I look at the finish and it looks like we’re tying a knot.

— Armstrong

Santa Fe Kickoff: Prologue to the Prologue

On the Podcast: We had no idea how popular this podcast would be when we started it last year, but there clearly was a void that needed filling. We’ve heard from people that it let them re-engage with the sport. Lots of folks had stopped watching. They tell us that we made it interesting to watch and learn again. That’s incredibly rewarding.

The Route: When they announced this route I was super excited. None of that has changed. Except maybe I’m even more excited now. This race will shake up in the first week with the Team Time Trial and the cobblestones. The TTT will put minutes, minutes, into Romain Bardet and AG2R. And the Stage 9 (Arras-Roubaix) cobbles—the biggest section of cobbles the Tour has ever taken on—will be crucial. The last section of cobbles is only three miles from the finish.  If you don’t hit those sections in the top 10, you’re in trouble. The peloton just shit its pants. You have to race to the cobbles with the team. Accidents and mechanicals are going to happen. Multiple contenders will crash out. All we need is rain. I’m hoping it rains on these poor dudes.

Lighting It Up with Short Stages: The sport of cycling is trying to change the dynamic and the viewing experience by shortening stages. That might sound counterintuitive, but as a GC rider, the worst thing you can imagine is a short mountain stage. When I was racing a short stage was 90 miles, but stages 10 and 17 are 67 miles and 40 miles. If you don’t watch anything else, you have to watch these stages. This is legit racing, not a gimmick. The run in to the finish of stage 17 is 16 kilometers at nine percent. A GC guy feeling good could blow up the race on that.

Lance’s List of Contenders

Froome: He won the Giro d’Italia five weeks ago. That’s very hard for people to come back from. But I’m not picking Froome because I don’t think the cobble sections help him.

Nibali: He’s won all three grand tours. And he’s a proven Classics rider who has been in the front group of Flanders. He can ride cobbles. This season he’s looked terrible, but these guys play possum. He knows what he’s doing.

Dumoulin: He’s my my wild card pick. And if I was only cheering for one rider it would be him. He’s obviously been riding well with a second place at the Giro. And he gets through the rough stages in the north (cobbles) better than any other favorites. He could be spent from the Giro, though.

Bardet: I don’t know. I don’t think so. He shouldn’t have made his team let alone my list. I’m kidding. He a great rider. But I don’t see him as a winner on this route with the TTT and the cobbles.

Porte: He has the skills to win. I don’t think he won the Swiss tour (June, 2018) because he looked good, but instead because he managed the race well. The problem is he’s on a team that’s going away. All the riders are thinking about themselves. I’ve been in these situations and it’s a shitshow. Porte is gone, he’s already signed with Trek-Segafredo. It’s a toxic situation for everyone else. Millions of dollars gone. Poof.

No to Superteams: Landa and Quintana and Valverde…three GC contenders in the same Movistar lineup. It’s not good. This is not the Golden State warriors. But one of them is going to make a mistake and be out of contention pretty quickly. That person will become a non factor.

On Again, Off Again Chris Froome Drama: The Froome situation with the adverse analytical finding (the charge was abuse of asthma meds) reveals how broken the anti-doping systems are. For nine months, we don’t hear anything, and then last weekend it seemed like the race organizers would ban him, and then five days before the Tour its, “we just dropped it.” The system is a mess. Things need to be adjudicated more quickly. As for the argument that Team Sky’s deep pockets bought their way out of the doping charge, I had more money and lawyers than they did and it didn’t help me. The movie I saw didn’t end that way.

— Armstrong

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