Tough Tour start has Armstrong pining for old days |

Tough Tour start has Armstrong pining for old days

MONTARGIS, France – The dangerously chaotic start to this year’s Tour de France has seven-time champion Lance Armstrong pining for another era of cycling, when a handful of riders controlled races and risks were easier to limit.

Even though riders have been in the saddle for only six days, this year’s Tour has seen enough spectacular crashes, injuries and near misses to already seem much longer.

At least, that’s how it feels to the 38-year-old Armstrong, whose mind is drifting toward his summer vacation.

“I’m going to watch as much bike racing as I can from the beach,” Armstrong said after Thursday’s fifth stage, when asked how he would spend his time once his final Tour is completed.

“I think for most observers it’s been a special Tour in the first five days with the amount of crashes … It’s been a while since we saw anything like that,” Armstrong said after British rider Mark Cavendish won the stage. “You see a lot of guys who have hit the deck and they’re suffering in the race. The racing’s been tough, too.

“You’ll really start to see in week two and week three. In week three, people are just going to be looking forward to the day they go home.”

Asked if he was already thinking about the July 25 finish – and putting his tired feet up – Armstrong replied: “I am.”

He did specify, however, that his motivation to win an eighth Tour and wrestle back his title from Spaniard Alberto Contador remains very much intact. It’s more the Tour’s frenzied style of racing this year that has him exasperated.

Armstrong has competed for nearly two decades, yet can barely remember such a fearsome start.

“It was definitely a stressful first four or five days, unlike anything I think we’ve seen,” he said. “I think even people who have been at this event for 40 years would agree this is an extremely volatile, dangerous first week.”

The drama and chaos, Armstrong says, may well be ushering in a new era in cycling, with far less disciplined riding, less control and more cyclists willing to take risks to stake their claim at success.

“There’s not 10 guys at the front who care about racing, there’s 100 guys. It’s very different,” Armstrong said. “I can’t control that. The sport is going to evolve, and it’s our job to evolve with it and to adapt.”

Normally riders would use the first few flat stages to feel their way before hitting the dreaded mountains, but Armstrong feels quite the opposite. He gladly admits he is counting the days to Sunday’s first Alpine stage.

“Those big group sprint finishes – I’m looking forward to getting (them) behind me,” he said.

He has another one on Friday, the longest stage of this year’s Tour, with more scorching heat predicted after two days of blazing conditions.

While Armstrong mused philosophically about the changing future of cycling, Cavendish cried tears of relief after winning his 11th career Tour stage in a sprint finish the day after throwing his bike and helmet in anger.

The 25-year-old Cavendish thrust his arms skyward and hugged teammates after beating Gerald Ciolek of Germany and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway over the mostly flat 116.5-mile trek from Epernay to Montargis.

The main contenders for the overall title cruised home afterward in the pack, with Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland still in the yellow jersey after retaining the overall lead.

Among the top contenders behind Cancellara, Cadel Evans of Australia held third place, 39 seconds back. Last year’s runner-up Andy Schleck of Luxembourg was sixth, 1:09 back.

Contador sat in ninth, 1:40 back, and Armstrong was 2:30 behind in 18th place.

Cavendish, who won six stages last year and four in 2008, broke down on the winner’s podium.

He had faded in a sprint finish in Wednesday’s stage, won by Italy’s Alessandro Petacchi, and bared his frustration by hurling his bike after the fourth stage.

“It’s incredible, it’s been a long time,” Cavendish said of his stage win. “Yesterday wasn’t that great for us. I let the guys down.”

Cavendish has developed a reputation among some as a “bad boy” of cycling. He was fined by international cycling’s governing body, UCI, this spring for making a hand gesture that was deemed unsuitable after he won a sprint finish in a Tour de Romandie stage.

France’s sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot, who was on hand for the stage, was beaming about Cavendish’s display of emotion.

“Only sport can give us scenarios like this,” she said. “The one who was called ‘the bad boy’ for several days became not only the good boy but the absolutely superb boy.”

On Friday’s sixth stage, riders will embark on a 141.3-mile trek from Montargis to Gueugnon. The forecast is for temperatures of up to 95 degrees.

– Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.

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