Armstrong has impressed since the second week of his professional career with Motorola last year when he took second place in a World Cup race at Zurich. With an exhausted LeMond, a three-times winner, absent from the Tour, it was natural that cycling's gaze would fall on this confident but cautious new all-American talent that was plucked from the Olympic road race, where he was 14th, and plunged into the even headier atmosphere of big-time stage racing.
'I am not the new Greg LeMond. I am the original Lance Armstrong,' he announced after taking the victory that he had promised himself from the first day. He shrugs off the 'million-dollar-man' tag that was stuck on him after his victory in the US road race championship. 'I never did get a million, even if that cheque showed it on the podium,' he said.
A clause in the deal said that the million dollars would be paid in instalments over 20 years. So he settled for an immediate dollars 600,000 (pounds 411,000), and after sharing it among his team took home pounds 30,000.
Armstrong wants to be accepted for his own skills. They are unlikely to be tested over the full three weeks and 3,700 kilometres of the Tour. It is policy among managers to ease their fledglings into this battle of the hawks and eagles. Miguel Indurain did not complete his first Tour, and Alex Zulle, who took the yellow jersey from Indurain last year on his debut, went home on the rest day.
Armstrong is realistic. 'I do not want to dig a hole here for myself,' he said. 'I may not get out of it not only for the rest of the year but probably for the rest of my career. I am not risking that just to say that I finished the whole race. I am learning and I just want to experience the Alps, then we will see how I feel.'
His cosmopolitan team, who include Sean Yates from Sussex, are on a high. They lead the team race, with five men in the top 15, and have Alvaro Mejia, from Colombia, challenging Johan Museeuw, of Belgium, for the yellow jersey, though that dream should end today.
The long-awaited Indurain-against-the-clock race is set for a circuit around Lake Madine. The Basque's only opponent is the flicking figures on the digital clock. His main worry, if Indurain is ever in that condition, crashed yesterday when Switzerland's Zulle stunned himself in a fall 11 kilometres from the finish.
His Once team-mates nursed their shaken leader to the finish to find that his overnight advantage of 1min 5sec had turned into a deficit of 54 seconds. Not the kind of handicap to take into a time trial against Indurain.
For the likes of Mario Cipollini, third overall 1:07 behind, the fun days are over. After the time trial the agony of the Alps awaits, and that is no place for a sprinter.
TOUR DE FRANCE Eighth stage (185.5km, 115.3 miles, Chalons-sur-Marne to Verdun): 1 L Armstrong (US, Motorola) 4hr 22min 23sec; 2 R Alcala (Mex, WordPerfect); 3 R Pensec (Fr, Novemail); 4 D Arnould (Fr, Castorama); 5 G Perini (It, ZG Mobili) s/t; 6 S Roche (Irl, Carrera) +1sec; 7 M Cipollini (It, GB) +14; 8 F Moncassin (Fr, WordPerfect); 9 C Capelle (Fr, Gan); 10 S Bauer (Can, Motorola); 11 D Abdoujaparov (Uzb, Lampre); 12 F Simon (Fr, Castorama); 13 J Nijdam (Neth, WordPerfect); 14 Z Spruch (Pol, Lampre); 15 U Raab (Ger, Telekom). Selected: 35 S Yates (GB, Motorola) +14; 61 G Bugno (It, Gatorade); 66 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto); 75 T Rominger (Swit, Clas); 85 C Chiappucci (It, Carrera); 130 R Millar (GB, TVM) all s/t; 149 A Zulle (Swit, Once) +2:13.
Overall: 1 Museeuw 34hr 13min 18sec; 2 A Mejia (Col) +39sec; 3 Cipollini +1:07; 4 B Riis (Den) +1:11; 5 B Cenghialta (It) +1:32; 6 W Nelissen (Bel) +1:35; 7 M Sciandri (It) +1:49; 8 J Bruyneel (Bel) +1:57; 9 L Jalabert (Fr) +2:11; 10 Z Jaskula (Pol) +2:20; 11 E Breukink (Neth) +2:30; 12 Armstrong +2:32; 13 P Anderson (Aus) +2:42; 14 P Louviot (Fr) +2:43; 15 Bauer +2:48. Selected: 17 Roche +2:57; 22 Chiappucci +3:06; 27 Indurain +3:17; 31 Yates +3:28; 34 Bugno +3:38. 42 Zulle +4:11; 71 Millar +5:10; 87 Rominger +6:19.
(Maps omitted)Reuse content