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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) – Lance Armstrong is smaller and stronger than when he emerged from retirement 12 months ago, changes that Johan Bruyneel believe will help the Texan in his bid to win an eighth Tour de France title.
Bruyneel, who guided Armstrong to successive Tour wins between 1999 and 2005, and currently runs the Texan’s U.S.-based Radioshack team, says it’s good to see less of Armstrong this year.
“The biggest difference that people see is he’s a lot smaller, his upper body is very different,” Bruyneel said after Armstrong placed 25th overall in the Tour Down Under won on Sunday by Andre Greipel of Germany.
Armstrong has repeatedly said he is lighter and stronger than in January 2009, when he made the Australian race his first stop in a comeback to cycling after a 3Â½-year retirement. He finished 29th and went on to place third in the Tour de France last July.
“At the end of 2008, when he started to train again, he was a retired athlete who wanted to stay in shape, stay fit, and he did a lot of different disciplines,” Bruyneel said. “One of them was weightlifting. It makes you look good at the beach, but it’s not the best for a bike rider.
“Since he started to race, he (hasn’t) lifted weights anymore, but of course losing muscle takes a long time.”
Armstrong finished 77th in Sunday’s stage and was 1 minute, 3 seconds down on Greipel’s accumulated time of 18:47:05.
Greipel won the ProTour event for the second time in three years, finishing fifth in the sixth and final stage captured by Chris Sutton of Australia. The German was credited with Sutton’s winning time of 1:52:20 for the 52-mile ride, and protected his 11-second overall lead over Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain.
Armstrong wasn’t focused on winning the race, instead using it as the first step of his preparations to win an eighth Tour de France title in July.
“It won’t be easy as a guy who’s 39 years old by then, but I’ll give it my best,” he said.
Bruyneel likes what he’s seen so far.
“Lance is good, he’s a lot different (than) last year, physically his form is a lot better, he feels good in the bunch and he feels good in the team,” Bruyneel said. “So that’s three things that are a lot better than last year.
“He feels a lot better on the bike, so all good.”
Bruyneel was also happy with the performance of Team Radioshack. The team failed to win a stage of the Tour Down Under, but managed to guide Belgian sprinter Gert Steegmans into fourth place on general classification.
“For our team (winning a stage) was not a goal. There’s nobody in the team who has really prepared specifically for this race other than being in good shape,” Bruyneel said. “I’m happy with the way the team worked together, we saw a few good things.”