Lance Armstrong Takes on the Tour de France

Cycling’s most infamous legend talks us through the twists and turns of the Tour with his daily podcast and exclusive updates on 'Outside'

Lance Armstrong reacts as he wins stage 15 of the 2004 Tour de France. (Christophe Ena/AP Images)
lance armstrong

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.

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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 9: Big George, Porte’s Cold Exit, the Taste of the Bit, and Say It Ain’t So, Trek-Segafredo, But Do We Have a Motorized-Doping Scandal?

George’s Backyard: [Famed domestique and classics rider, George Hincapie joined Lance and JB Hager in the trailer today.] The cobbles. This is Like George's backyard. Today’s route included the hardest sections ever in the Tour. For the average listener that rides centuries; for you people that want to break five hours or fours hours, these guys rode essentially a century in three hours and 22 minutes, into a headwind, on the cobbles. And they averaged 29 mph. All the guys that I gave zero chance to get through this day—Bardet, Froome, Quintana, were right there.

That’s Gonna Hurt: George: I’ll be interested to see how these guys recover tomorrow. Their bodies took a different type of pounding. The guys that crashed, their bodies will go into shock, and then they’ll need to recover on the rest day before the first big climbing stage. The nervous energy might have consumed as many calories as the output. It will have an effect.

How to Ride Dust: [Dry conditions and dust contributed to an untold number of crashes today. Lance and George try to make sense of it.] Lance: It was just a dust storm. It looked like smoke. These guys are going to be coughing for days.

George: I’m still trying to figure out what happened today. I don’t know if they had too much air pressure, but I’ve never seen that many crashes from dust.

Lance: They don’t know what they’re doing.

George: If you’re at the front already you should sit up. There’s no reason to go hard into the corners like Sky did. You can let the peloton build up behind you. That makes it safer for you and more stressful and dangerous for the rest of the group.

Porte Is Snubbed Out: Lance: They don’t show it on TV, but It looks like Richie Porte had a collision with a spectator. Out of the race for the second year in a row. He crashed out of Stage 9 two years in a row. That’s a bad stage for Porte. The first report said he broke his collarbone. And then we get a report that his collarbone is not broken. Of course we all know that he’s signed a multi-year deal with a new team at the end of the year. I just want to read a statement from team president Jim Ochowicz: “His collarbone is not broken. There are no broken bones. He’s been to the hospital and is now on his way to Annecy. His bag is waiting for him there.” That’s cold. Ice, ice baby.

George: That's a harsh statement. If it is a separated shoulder and not a broken collarbone, that hurts worse.

Lance: As we predicted, and despite carrying the yellow jersey into the alps, BMC is a disaster. [Tejay Van Garderen also lost six minutes on the day.]

Lance’s Patron of the Day: Romain Bardet. Even after the slowest wheel change I’ve ever seen he fought back on. As an aside, if you’re a professional bike racer or want to be one, learn how to change your own wheel. It took 45 seconds. Change your own wheel.

George’s Patron of the Day: George: [Stage winner] John Degenkolb. This is a guy who won [the spring classic] Paris Roubaix in the past. He was super confidant.

Lance: If you don’t know the backstory, this was a few years ago. They’re out on a group training ride with the team and a British lady is on vacation and forgets that she’s in Spain and is driving on the wrong side of the road. The fact that nobody was killed is a miracle. Degenkolb lost the use of his hand for a while, his pointer finger is still damaged.

George: Then he lost an important person in his life. He called him his second father.

Lance: His post race interview was yellow jersey material. As he came into the line the Australian feed said ‘He’s got the bit in the teeth and he likes the taste.’ Today’s stage was one of the monuments of the Tour.

Trek and the Next Motorized Doping Conspiracy? Lance: This just appeared on Twitter, like everything bad in the world happens on Twitter. Coming off a crash, this young kid Tom Skujins, in the polka dot jersey on the Trek team, he spins his bike around, and the rear wheel all of a sudden is spinning really fast. I’ve been adamant that this is not happening in the pro peloton. The UCI is saying they they cracked down. But right now, the world is Lucy, and the world is saying, ‘You have some splaining to do.' 

George: I’m saying he just crashed and clicked the bike into gear and spun the rear wheel. But it’s a weird video.

Lance: Super weird. Is it the motor in the seat tube or that magnetic system we’re hearing about? They said I had a motor in the bike, too. There was a lot of other stuff going on, but I promise you that their was not a motor in the bike. Anyway, the UCI will be taking that bike. We’ll know more soon.

Upcoming stages: Lance: As everyone knows that listened to the show last year, I don’t like rest days. To go Roubaix, rest day, and straight into the mountains is going to be rough. But I don’t think the mountain stages are that bad.

George: Are you not reading these percentages? We’ve got a category 4 climb from the start and an 11k climb at an 11 percent grade, then another climb at 11 percent. The peloton will be going full gas as the first real breakaways of the Tour start. Plenty hard.

Lance: We disagree. And that’s a good thing. And then we get to Alp D’Huez. It’s like winning today. One of the monuments of the Tour.

— Armstrong

Stage 8: Head Butting Magilla, the Fall of Irish Cycling, and New Breakfast Cobbles

More Egg on the Face: [Courtesy of Dylan Groenewegen, winner of Stages 7 and 8, who Lance discounted heavily earlier in the series] Yesterday I had egg on the left side of the face, today I had it on the right. Congrats to Dylan Groenewegen.

Today’s Relegated Drama: Groenewegen was clearly the fastest. But the action was on the left side of the sprint between Andre Greipel and Fernando Gaviria. I had to almost close my eyes. It’s so intense. There was a bunch of discussion in the aftermath about whether Gaviria is going to get disqualified. You know what I saw? Gaviria defending himself. When you’re young like these guys, you don’t hit the brakes like Cavendish does now. So the commissars disqualified both guys. I agree with that decision; so for that, we’re going to make the commissars the Patron of the Day. I never thought I’d say that.

Heading Butting the Gorilla: That move that Gaviria was making...he was all over the bike. How he kept it upright I have no idea. While you’re banging your head on Greipel. But this is a guy who won World Championships in 2016 and 2015 in the omnium. He’s a multi-time world champion track cyclist. He can do those things with his eyes closed. He grew up on the track. On the velodrome.

How Come They Weren’t Disqualified Like Peter Sagan Was Last Year? Last year was different. I didn’t agree with it, but it was different. Cavendish was on the ground with a broken body. It’s different.

Too Boring? I’ve seen some stats that the TV ratings are down fairly significantly. I’ve also seen a lot of articles about how boring yesterday’s stage was. Too long, too flat. Not every day can be like tomorrow.

Froome the Scapegoat? The sport is trying to find itself. VeloNews did an interview with Quick-Step honcho Patrick Lefevere. He recounts how he’s out looking for sponsors and it’s not a good look. Lance reading from the story:

‘I go looking for sponsors, and people ask me, what is this? Four-time winner of the Tour, suspect? The other guy, Wiggins, there is a lot of mystery around it. And the American guy? Seven times gone! You can close your book…. Everybody who ‘blames’ [Froome] in this case too early should be ashamed,” he said. “Whoever leaked this should be up on a cross.” Lance: That’s not a unified sport. How do we net out here?

The Fall of Irish Royalty: [Dan Martin crashed and his United Arab Emirates team had to pull him back but he still lost 1:16.] You could see on his face he was not feeling good. When he got going again with three riders around him, he was having a hard time sitting on the wheel in front of him. They brought back 30 seconds, but once the peloton really gets going for a field sprint, there's nothing you can do. This was a guy that many thought had an outside chance to win the overall, but now he’s got a body that hit the deck pretty hard.

Cobbles for Breakfast: Tomorrow’s stage has a record amount of cobbles for the Tour. Fifteen sectors, the first section is with 109 kilometers to go in a 159-kilometer stage. They will be stressed, they will be sprinting. They will be lined up for that first section. From the minute Christian Prudhomme drops the flag, it’s on. It’s going to be an action packed day. I get it that people don’t like it but I sit here as a fan, and I can’t wait to get up tomorrow to watch. Roubaix is in France. It’s the Tour de France. I like it. If somebody gets hurt then their fans will be upset. If Chris Froome crashes out then people will say the race lost. I can see that too, but I fall on the side of getting super excited.

What’s Up with the Sectors? The sectors are anywhere from 1k to 2.5K each. And each one is ranked from 1 to 5 stars. A normal person can’t ride their bike on a 5-star sector. Tomorrow there are four 4-star sectors. That’s rough as shit. And there are a lot of really rough cobbles just before the finish. Pay attention to the starred sections. There’s a three star section five miles before the finish. You won’t see GC guys with 20 minute losses unless you have a major problem, but multiple people will lose 1 or 2 minutes.

Who Should Thrive? Dumoulin, Nibali… Greg Van Avermaet will keep the Yellow Jersey tomorrow if he can stay upright. Another track rider, Geraint Thomas. It suits him. Nibali has to have a great day tomorrow because they sucked so bad in the TTT. And Dumoulin has to get time back.

Who Will Struggle? All the lightweight climbing waifs.

— Armstrong 

Stage 7: The Finish in Shart, Pancake and Wanker Riders, Cav Is Toast, and Do Tour Riders Make Intercourse?

The Finish in Shart: Anyway, we’re talking about this stage and I’m going to butcher all the names; it’s beginning to be funny. But Phil Ligget was calling the finish town “shart.” [Chartres] And I don’t think I have to tell our listeners what a shart is.  

Tom Dumoulin Dinged: As you saw, he was penalized 20 seconds after flatting with 5K to go yesterday. He used a team car to pace back in. I don’t agree with this one. No part of me when I watched that yesterday said, ‘He’s got to get a penalty.’ To throw on a 20-second penalty sounds pretty arbitrary. So he basically lost 1:20. If it surprises you that the sport is inconsistent, I have news for you. What surprises me is that there’s a Mini Cooper team car in the Tour de France. Mini-coopers should not be in the tour. Judges can now use video to apply penalties; that’s new. But if he didn’t have that car he would of lost more time than 20 seconds. And drafting is easier, he would have hurt himself for the upcoming days. I cannot explain or justify decisions made at the Tour. It’s like throwing darts. That will continue to happen.

Pancake and Wanker Riders: Guys in back draft behind the team cars all the time, but they’re not on TV.

142 Boring Miles. One Exciting One: One-hundred-forty-three miles. I had a sense that it would be boring so I set my alarm even later and I got up and they still had 50 miles to ride. They were 20 minutes behind the slowest projected time, which clearly indicates that they were chillin’. And no breakaway.

Back to Eating Crow: I got a little egg on my face because we were asked earlier about Dylan Groenewegen, and I flat out said it ain’t gonna happen. When he crossed the finish line he was giving the “shh shh” sign. I took it that he was directing it at me. You know what, Green Path [the translation of Dylan’s surname]? I’m going to shut the hell up. I stand corrected. I discounted Groenewegen’s chances. You got me there. It’s not like he got lucky. He took it.  

Cavendish Is Spooked: He’s is one of the greatest field sprinters of all time. Perhaps the best. But I think his time has come and gone. He doesn’t have the head or the mentality for it. Sagan starts to come by him, you can pull it up on Youtube, and Cav flinched. He could have been top five. He had no reason to flinch. They weren’t even close. Mark Cavendish seven years ago would have said screw this I’m flying through a brick wall. He’s spooked.

Tomorrow Is la Fête Nationale: It’s Bastille day, so watch every French guy in the race get in the break. They’ll have their handlebar tape done up in red, white, and bleu. And the breakaway won’t work. The French guys are going to be all amped up. And they have their soccer team in the World Cup finals. Oh Man.

Co-host JB: Did you ride harder on the 4th of July?

Lance: Negative.

One Sketchy Corner: The final turn tomorrow is at 600 meters. You have to be in the top five to have a chance for the win. Today, with 600 meters to go they were five guys wide. Tomorrow it’s going to be single file.

Social Media Presence: I’m not a fan of those things that Taylor Phinney produces. But if I were him, I’d only give them to NBC through my social media channels. That’s his content.

More on Lawson Craddock: I asked him, ‘Do you see yourself as a tour contender?’ And his answer was yes. So far be it from us to discourage that. We will support that. He’s had an awful lot of bad luck, not just Stage 1 here, but what I saw him go through last year with an ill advised training program by this fucking bonehead Jonathan Vaughters. It was mind boggling. And it ruined his season. Now he feels good, obviously he’s dealing with his injuries, but he feels good. But that lost season could account for ten percent of your chances in a career.

Do Tour Riders Make Intercourses? [Co-host JB dumbstruck Lance with a question from a European fan of the show.]

JB: Did your wives or companions travel with you? Are the ‘intercourses’ good for riders?

Lance: That’s amazing I can’t even believe you read that out loud. ‘Intercourses.’ Do riders have intercourses during the tour? Taylor Phinney might. No, the answer is no. At least in my day, there’s enough people in this traveling circus [40 or 50 per team] that they aren’t throwing in eight other wives or girlfriends. No they aren’t getting laid during the Tour de France. Mario Cipollini maybe. There was once a man named Mario Cipollini. If you’re Cipollini yes. Anybody else, no. If you’re Cipollini you can do anything you want. 'Hey honey, good to see you, how about we makes make some intercourses. We can make party like Peter Sagan.' I’m fucking glad you read that one.

— Armstrong

Stage 6: Triumphant Irish Cycling Royalty, Chris Froome—Super Domestique, and Taylor Phinney’s Cringy Videos

Quick-Step: It’s was the perfect day for them to control the race. A Classics-style stage. I didn’t anticipate a windy day but it clearly got windy. They were on the front 68 percent of the time. They felt like Sagan had too easy of a ride yesterday. So they meant to animate it, to take a bit out of his legs. Maybe it worked. He didn’t win but he was in the front group and beat all three guys that won last year.

More Sagan: JB (co-host): He’s won 10 stages. He has 30 second places. Lance: You gotta get second a lot if you want to win. If he converted half of those second places, he’d be at 25, Eddy Merckx’s record is 34.

Dumoulin’s Flat: Aside from Dan Martin’s impressive ride-slash-drag-race up the Mur de Bretagne—and by the way “mur” means “wall,” so Wall of Brittany—the real headline is the shakeup with the favorites. Four of the favorites lost time. Tom Dumoulin—it took forever for him to get that wheel changed and get going again. You’re never going to make that up. He lost 50 seconds to his competitors. Bardet, 28 seconds. Froome loses five. Tejay loses three.

Who’s in Charge? Romain Bardet had a mechanical leading into the Mur. The TV didn’t catch it. But to lose 28 seconds on the Mur to your rivals is rough. So Bardet finishes 28 seconds off, then, lo and behold, his teammate Pierre Latour gets second. Same thing happens with Froome and Geraint Thomas. His teammate beats him. We talked so much about Movistar having three leaders, but we didn’t even talk about Team Sky. Before the race, they designated Froome and Thomas as the two leaders—co-leaders. But if somebody proposed that to me, I would have been like, ‘No way in hell.’ And could Pierre Latour have a better name? Pierre Latour is straight out of Tour de Pharmacy.

Froome the Domestique: [Question from JB: If Froome loses a lot of time, will he be working for Thomas?] Let’s not speculate too much. Froome has proven that he can have bad days and then have days where he’s exceptional. But let’s speculate a little and say that he lost time and he goes into a role as a super domestique for Thomas, he’d do it, he’s a good teammate, but that changes everything about how he’s perceived as a rider and a man.

Dan Martin, Prince of Ireland, Patron of the Day: Dan Martin is our Patron of the Day. When he went, man. The interesting thing about the climb of the Mur is that it’s straight. No switchbacks or curves. You can see everything in front of you. So when he went, I thought he went way too early. Super impressive. He’s riding away and four of the favorites are off the back and they can’t close. A lot of people don’t know it, but Dan Martin comes from Irish cycling royalty. He’s the nephew of Stephen Roche—Tour de France winner, Tour of Italy winner, world champion—and therefore the cousin of Nicolas Roche of Team BMC. Irish cycling royalty.

Really Taylor? I’m getting tired of a lot of things, including Taylor Phinney’s homemade videos. I got up early and flipped on the TV. I don’t want to say much because I love Taylor Phinney, but I don’t understand these videos. What do the listeners think? Maybe I’m old. I don’t get it. I love him, and I’m not saying he’s an asshole, but I don’t get it. [JB plays a clip from Phinney’s last video in which Phinney speaks in what one could describe as millennial festivas sotto voce.] Phinney: ‘On Wednesdays we wear pink. Brutal stage today, I’m tired. We’re doing it for glory. For America, for education.’ Lance: I don’t know. It’s like Burning Man or Coachella. It’s the Tour de France, man!’

— Armstrong

Stage 5: Eating Shit, A Shiv in the Ribs from the USPS, and the Badger Is a Grumpy Old Bastard

Patron of the Day: It was a beautiful day in Brittany. I was expecting more action or fireworks. Maybe I shouldn’t say this but I was expecting more crashes. Carnage. It didn’t happen. I said earlier that I didn’t think Peter Sagan looked good, but I was completely proven wrong. He was dominant. He’s our Patron of the Day. And he keeps his green jersey. In his post race interview he looked wrecked. It looked like an 18-wheeler rolled over him. He said he actually liked that course.

That Extended Sprint: Everyone of those 38 guys that came to the line together—they could taste the lactate. The grupetto was almost 21 minutes down.

Michael Matthews Drops Out: If he was healthy, he would have contended for the stage today. For Tom Dumoulin this is a huge loss; this is a teammate he could have used. Either it’s a chest cold or flu or it’s a stomach bug. Think about the close confines of a team bus or a European hotel room. Each rider has a roommate. What are the chances that it doesn’t travel around the dining table?

Germ Warfare? You can get sinister about this stuff. In no other sports do fans have the ability to touch an athlete and put something on them. If you’re Chris Froome and some guy comes up and rubs on your arm, I’d be stressed about that, what’s he rubbing on your arm?

Separated at Birth: Bretons and...Texans? When you watched the stage today, 99 percent of the flags where black and white, the flag of Brittany. They aren’t extreme like the Basques or the Catalans, it’s more like Texans. They’ll fly their flag first. The Bretons have their own dialect and flag.

Beast or Bastard? [Famed rider Bernard Hinault’s recent call for Tour riders to strike if Froome, suspected of doping with asthma meds until he was summarily cleared last week, showed up at the start, has him front of mind with Lance, who says he is no Froome “fanboy.”] Brittany is where Hinault was born and raised. Worked for the tour for many years. He would handle all the celebs. Unfortunately, Mr. Hinault has turned into one of the crankiest old bastards alive. He’s cranky about everything. He was a beast of a bike racer. As we talked about the other day, he planted his fist in a guy’s face. He was the original Patron. But god, he’s just gotten to be a curmudgeon. You can only be a curmudgeon if your day of cycling was lily white. Please, no. Get in the bus and shut up.

Do Not Sit on the Top Tube: [Elie Gesbert crashed after trying to ride a top tube tuck around a corner and getting hung up.] This ill advised idea; this terrible thing of going downhill while sitting on your top tube... Low and behold, one of the kids [in the breakaway] got stuck down there. If you saw the footage, he was about to really crash. But he kept it upright and ended up off the side of the road tumbling away. Do not do this. I don’t care what Sagan or Froome does. Somebody, mark my words, somebody significant is going to yardsale, crash, eat shit, in that position. If you see anybody on your local group ride doing that, just kick them out of the group. I’m very passionate about this. I’m more passionate about it than the fact that Hinault is a grumpy old bastard.

USPS: Hypocrites or a Shiv? This shit takes the cake. I’m watching the Tour on NBC this morning. Guess who advertises today? The United States Postal Service. I don’t even. Ugh. I can’t find the words. They were so damaged by pro cycling [dripping sarcasm]. Guess who bought the ad? This ad brought to you by Lance Armstrong.

How Technology Makes the Tour Faster, Take Two: What’s even more advantageous is Google Earth and Google Maps. Zoom in if you’re concerned about the last 5K. You can see the traffic posts. You can see how wide the road is. It makes these races that much faster. We talked about fitness and equipment, but knowing that level of detail about the roads means you’re not hitting the brakes.

Tomorrow’s Stage 6: Similar to today, but not as lumpy early on. The finishing climb is two kilometers at seven percent. That’s all the way up to the finish. A straightaway. You’ll be able to see everyone in front of you.

And a Question from 10-year-old Fan Tory: What are you thinking about when you ride a bike? Because I’m not sure these guys are thinking. They’re covered in bandaids.
Lance: It’s just hard, Tory, all of them want to be in one place at one time.

— Armstrong

Stage 4: The F of the Day, a Nod to the Giro Rosa, Meet Dumb and Dumber, and Tomorrow's Carnage

What Happened to Sagan Yesterday: He’s a character and he knows it, so he gave an explanation on his Instagram and blamed his legs. But NBC did a good job of going back and finding some footage. More than half the team lost their aero bottles on a bump. If I’m on an island and I get to choose between aerodynamics and water, guess what I’m choosing. Whatever you’re doing, aero bottles do not stay in. The savings are not worth it. That was not your normal Peter Sagan, he was in the hurt locker. He would not sit up and abandon his team.

Speed of Today’s Stage: Fast. Before they started getting fired up for the finale it was 42 kilometers per hour. That’s 27 mph for 120 miles. That’s motoring. It’s not an easy day in the heat.

Patron of the Day: Fernando Gaviria. The way he won that sprint he has to be our Patron of the Day. He’s leading, and then he’s getting passed by Greipel and he managed to find another gear.

The F of the Day: When the crash happened outside of the 3K banner everybody does quick inventory. Where’s our GC guy? And here’s Katusha Alpecin with a young GC favorite [Ilnur Zakarin]. He’s behind the accident. And he’s got one guy with him. He lost a minute. So I think, maybe they left the team up the road so they can lead out Marcel Kittel for the sprint. But Kittel has nobody with him either. The dumb tactics goe to Katusha. They get an F for the day.

A Nod to the Giro Rosa: I’ve been busy watching the guys duke it out in France, but two Americans came in first and second in the women’s Giro today. Ruth Winder and Taylor Wiles. The momentum behind women’s cycling is building. It’s not as if the men do harder climbs. These are real bike racers. These are tough, tough athletes. And three out of the top five racers in the Giro Rosa are American. They deserve our respect and attention.

The Spat Heard Round the World: [Sky and the UCI have been battling verbally and Lance has been paying attention.] Dave Brailsford, who is dumb and getting dumber, is the GM of Team Sky; the other player is David Lappartient, president of UCI and the mayor of Sarzeau, the town the Tour finished in today. Five days before the start of the Tour the UCI says Froome is completely cleared with no explanation. If I’m Brailsford I’m like 'Holy Hell, Christmas came early, I’m not saying anything.' But what does he do? He comes out and says Lappartient has a local French mayor mentality. Did [Brailsford] get roofied? And then Lappartient shoots back: I don’t really want to answer him, but you’re insulting me and 35,000 other French mayors and the French people. Dave Brailsford: Shut your mouth.

Up Next, Carnage:  As a fan you love to watch these stages [5 and 6 in the cobblestoned north]. Tomorrow’s is 204 kilometers. It looks like somebody made a mistake drawing the map. Those roads are tight and they turn a lot. The stage is never flat. It’s up and down. There will be carnage tomorrow. And it looks like they designed the finish for people to hit the deck. Three turns in the last 1k, and it’s uphill. The GC guys will all get over it unless they crash. But there’s a section at the end that’s 600 meters at a six percent. Everything I just said has Peter Sagan written all over it, but I’m not picking him. For tomorrow, if you’re Team Quick Step [which dominated the Spring Classics this year], if I’m them, I say we’re racing for Philippe Gilbert. They could win tomorrow with Gilbert and the next day with Julian Alaphilippe. Sagan doesn’t look like himself. The next two days, cancel what you’re doing. Fireworks. Sit down and watch.

— Armstrong

Stage 3: The TTT, Discerning “Booooo” from “Froooome,” and Peter Sagan Makes Party

That Was BMC’s Highlight: There were no surprises at the front of the race. And even though BMC took the win today, I’m sticking with my predictions about them having a rough Tour because of their ownership issues. They pulled it together to win the TTT, but outside of that, the only thing that mattered was how the day affected the GC.

Bummer for Tejay: [There was some discussion about why the Yellow Jersey went to Greg Van Avermaet instead of Tejay van Garderen since they had the same time over the first three stages. The answer, says Lance, is complicated.] They finished together yesterday in the front group, and obviously again today. So maybe they should arm wrestle. Or play rock paper scissors. Or run a 100-yard dash. But no, the way they go about that is they take their places—not their times—add them up and divide them and the lower score gets the jersey. But as warm and fuzzy as that is, there’s a part of Tejay that must be going, ‘Damn. I could have had yellow.’ He could have worn yellow for first—and perhaps only—time in his life. GVA had it before. Maybe you should be able to gift it. That would make a nice gimmick: “Tejay, I love you buddy, here’s the jersey.”

Sorry, Phil: Froome was taking 45-second pulls. At max effort that’s a long time to be sitting on the front. And as he’s leading the Sky train you can hear audible boos on the feed. ‘Listen to the applause,’ says my friend Phil Liggett. But it was a sea of boos. Turn up your hearing aid Phil.

Nibali’s Gamble: [The Bahrain Merida team, through strategy or shear desperation, rode the last four kilometers with only three teammates around Vincenzo Nibali, one of Lance’s picks for GC contenders in his Tour preview.] I’m not changing that pick. And I don’t know if they met internal expectations or not, but their performance was terrible. Nibali is now behind Chris Froome. To ride the last four kilometers with only four guys was a huge risk, if anything happens to any of these guys, they have to stop. A crash, a mechanical, they have to stop. They can’t continue until a rider catches back on. It’s so risky to be put into that position. The clock keeps ticking. They lost 1:06 to BMC.

Tom “Home Skillet” Dumoulin: Dumoulin must have heard that they were 14 seconds down and Home Skillet just went to the front and drilled it to limit the damage. They beat other teams [fourth place]. If you’re an eight man team and you can’t beat essentially one guy [Dumoulin] then you don’t belong in the Tour de France.

Peter “Make Party” Sagan: Peter Sagan doesn’t get dropped from his team in a TTT. What was going on? Maybe he “make party” the night before. Or he was sick. He didn’t look good. But whatever, he’ll wear the green tomorrow.

Lawson Craddock, Two-Time Patron: It’s hard to pick a patron of the day in a TTT, but I gave Lawson very little chance of even finishing today. Which makes Lawson Craddock the Patron of the Day for the second time in three days. He was smart and sat on and then he started rotating with the team. They finished well. He fell off with 5K to go. But the grit to stay in there was impressive. When I told him he was our Patron of the Day two days ago he was like, ‘Do I get some free tequila?’

How Do you Recover From That? [A question came in about how to recover from a time trial versus a regular mountain stage.] That’s a good question, I wouldn’t have thought to ask it. But these guys spend 90-plus percent of the time they ride on a classic road bike, and then they shift to a TT bike which is much different in fit. Even in the TTT, where you get breaks, they’ll have massive soreness in the glutes and lower back. The only way to resolve that is massage and chiropractic. They will know tomorrow that they rode the max effort on their TT bikes.

Don’t Get in the Sprinter’s Kitchen: Philippe Gilbert has been vocal about GC guys staying out of the sprint and I agree with him—the sprinters don’t get in the way of the climbs. It’s important to stay up front, but you don’t have to be in their business. All day long the GC guys should be in the top 10 or 20 and then drop back to the top 50 when they cross that three kilometer mark.

Stage 4 Runway: It’s a straightforward run in. If they fall down tomorrow then we have problems. After tomorrow, the Tour gets really exciting again.

— Armstrong 

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 shit-show. 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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