Lance Armstrong couldn’t hide his satisfaction from lying third overall two days into the Tour of Luxembourg on Thursday.
What made Armstrong more happy was his form than his placing.
“I can’t lie, there were some guys sitting up on the final little climb there, 5km from the finish and other guys riding off the front, attacking, and I made it across there relatively easily, which is a good sign,” the 38-year-old Armstrong said. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to do that.”
Armstrong’s RadioShack team worked hard to catch three breakaway riders about 15km from the finish of the 180km ride from Luxembourg to Hesperange won by Giovanni Visconti of Italy.
Armstrong was 50th, credited with the same time as Visconti.
After the first stage and Wednesday’s prologue, Armstrong trails race leader Cyril Lemoine of France by a second. Armstrong’s teammate Gregory Rast of Switzerland was second with the same time as Lemoine.
Armstrong, whose season has been hampered by illness and last month’s crash on the Tour of California, is using the Tour of Luxembourg as part of his preparations for the Tour de France. He will next race the Tour of Switzerland in order to make up for the racing days he missed this year.
“The ambition is to be making progress, avoid problems, stay on the good way for the Tour,” Armstrong said. “This race is awfully technical in terms of the amount of turns, hundreds of turns and climbs, and wind. The wind is hard to predict. If you’re not from here, which of course we’re not, it’s sometimes confusing.”
Armstrong crashed out of the Tour of California on May 20, hurting his elbow and sustaining a cut under his left eye. He still has some lingering effects, but said he surprised himself with his strong performance in the short but demanding climbs.
“[I] just [want to] finish every race and avoid the accidents that I’ve had over the last two years. Just day by day,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong, who broke his collarbone last year in his first comeback season, was forced to withdraw from the Milan-San Remo in March, citing gastroenteritis, and pulled out from the Circuit de la Sarthe with a stomach illness.
On Thursday, early breakaway riders Anthony Charteau, Johnny Hoogerland and Morten Knudsen built up a lead of six minutes, before RadioShack started the chase 50km from the finish.
Armstrong said his team worked hard because it was important to stay upfront and avoid a potential crash.
“And secondly, I think we feel like we can win the race, we have a couple of guys who can win the overall,” Armstrong said.
The Tour of Luxembourg is Armstrong’s first race since his former US Postal teammate Floyd Landis admitted to doping throughout his career and alleged that Armstrong was involved too.
Armstrong was angered by a reporter asking him if had taken EPO during his career and if he tried to bribe an International Cycling Union official following an alleged positive test.
“How many times would I have to answer the same question?” Armstrong said. “The answer has not changed. Don’t ask me another stupid question like that.”
The second stage is a 203km hilly ride between Schifflange and Differdange.