Lance Armstrong could not tell right away how much weight he burnt off in a stifling and humid second stage of the Tour de France, marred by crashes and won by sprint king Mark Cavendish.
The seven-time Tour champion, currently 10th in the overall standings — 40 seconds behind race leader Fabian Cancellara — spent the day in the peloton without taking any risks.
Asked about how Sunday’s stage went, Armstrong simply said: “Hot.”
The American, who entered the race at 72.5kg — lighter than he was during his dominant spell at the Tour — said he will watch his weight carefully.
Riders need to keep their weight down, but being too light can suggest they are dehydrated, which would reduce performance.
“It’s hard to hydrate. But you know, it’s hot for everybody,” Armstrong told reporters near his Astana team bus.
Armstrong finished 80th in the stage. He only trails his rival and teammate Alberto Contador by 22 seconds. And even if the Spaniard is the clear favorite to win the race, Armstrong cannot be written off for the title. The two men were very cautious on Sunday in a stage tailor-made for sprinters.
“Just avoid trouble and get in the rhythm of the race,” Armstrong said, summing up his journey in the Mediterranean hinterland.
In the overall standings, Cancellara, who finished 38th, leads Contador by 18 seconds. Bradley Wiggins of Britain is third.
Armstrong said he had recovered well from Saturday’s time-trial and pointed out the lack of competition before the Tour to explain his respectable 10th place-finish in Monaco.
“I think that was maybe my biggest issue yesterday, was the break from the Giro to here without races, so to speak,” Armstrong said. “It’s hard to throw yourself back into competition.”
After finishing 12th in the Giro d’Italia in May, Armstrong spent most of his time training in Colorado and only competed in a small race in the US, the Nevada City Classic he won.
“If you do the Dauphine [Libere] and [the Tour of] Switzerland, it’s probably better training for an opening time trial like that,” said Armstrong, referring to two stage races last month. “Anyway, I think the Giro helps in the final week here.”
Armstrong has said that the Tour’s third week is the hardest he’s ever seen at cycling’s premiere event. It features three days in the Alps, an individual time trial, and a ride up the famed and feared Mont Ventoux on the penultimate race day.
Apart from Armstrong, many riders muttered about the hot conditions.
“The heat was like you were baking bread ... it was terrible,” Cancellara said, adding that temperatures had hit 40ºC. “I haven’t seen heat like that in years.”
Contador, who finished 58th on Sunday, said he felt like he’d “drunk at least five liters during the stage.”
Cavendish won his fifth stage on the Tour following excellent work by his teammates, who set him up perfectly. After catching a group of four breakaway riders some 11km from the finish, the teams with strong sprinters moved to the head of the peloton, and Cavendish’s Columbia team was the strongest.
“It was dangerous at the finish. It was quite hard to stay in position,” Cavendish said after clocking 4 hours, 30 minutes and 2 seconds for the course — the same time as all but two of the riders.
“There were guys fighting to stay up front,” he said. “As soon as my team picked up to line the peloton out, it made things a little less hectic.”