At Tour, Armstrong 1 Second Away From Lead

Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong came within a second of the lead after his squad won Tuesday's team time trial in a dramatic finish. John Wilcockson, a reporter for Velo News and author of Lance, says Armstrong, who has come back from retirement to race in the Tour de France, is optimistic, but knows he has a difficult task ahead.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The boss is back. That's the word from the Tour de France, where Lance Armstrong is racing again after four years in retirement. And today, a dramatic finish to the fourth stage of the race, a team time trial. Lance Armstrong and his Astana team needed to make up 40 seconds for him to take the lead and the yellow jersey.

Here's how commentator Phil Liggett called the end of the race.

(Soundbite of Tour de France race coverage)

Mr. PHIL LIGGETT (Sports Commentator): Even Armstrong (unintelligible) his team as they drive up now, 46.29. They've got to do it. They need to kick very, very hard here, and they've done it by a matter of - oh, my goodness me.

BLOCK: Oh my goodness me. It took a while to calculate, but when they did, Armstrong had missed taking the lead by just eighteen-one-hundredths of a second.

John Wilcockson of Velo News is covering the tour, as he has for 40 years now. He's also the author of a new biography of Lance Armstrong, written with the cyclist's cooperation.

John Wilcockson, welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN WILCOCKSON (Reporter, Velo News; Author, "Lance Armstrong: The World's Greatest Champion"): Nice to be here, Melissa. Thank you.

BLOCK: It doesn't get much closer than that finish today.

Mr. WILCOCKSON: It certainly can't. You know, that's like one meter. So - yeah, it doesn't get as close as that ever.

BLOCK: Well, why don't you explain how the team time trial works? They're racing in a group against the clock, right?

Mr. WILCOCKSON: Exactly, and the actual time of the team counts towards the individual classification, and that's why it's so important. Today, there was nine men on each team starting in the center of Montpelier, and they had a course of roughly 25 miles to race around, and they have to work as a team. And two of Lance's team actually got dropped behind on one of the climbs, and the other seven had to go on, but they raced so well that they won by 40 seconds over the team of Fabian Cancellara, who had the lead this morning and still has the lead.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about how Lance Armstrong is doing. He's 37 years old now, coming out of retirement. He's won the tour seven times. He's racing against guys who are a whole lot younger. One of his teammates is 11 years younger than he is.

Mr. WILCOCKSON: That's correct. And when he announced his comeback to the sport almost a year ago now, he said he thought it might be quite easy to get back into it. Six months ago, he said that, mm, yes, this might be much more difficult than I thought it would be. And today, he's sort of in between those two things. He's optimistic but he realizes he's got a very, very difficult task if he wants to win the Tour de France. And the super favorite for the race is his teammate Alberto Contador who won the tour two years ago.

BLOCK: What is the dynamic between the two of them - between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong?

Mr. WILCOCKSON: Well, the Spanish media who know Alberto very well, they say that Alberto is holding back. He's not really saying what he really feels because he does want to win the race, and Lance also wants to win the race. But publicly, he says that Alberto is the leader, and it's an incredible dynamic, and it'll all come to a head this coming Friday when we get to the mountains.

BLOCK: And typically, Lance Armstrong would be expected to do really well. He's always done well in the mountains.

Mr. WILCOCKSON: He always has done, but this is four years after he last did the Tour de France, so it's going to be very difficult for him. There's never been a Tour de France rider as old as this. Thirty-six was the oldest man to win the race before, and that was like 80 years ago, and Contador is renowned as a climber. So the stage on Friday is going to be something that everybody will want to watch, I'm sure.

BLOCK: Well, John, enjoy the rest of the tour.

Mr. WILCOCKSON: Thanks so much, Melissa.

BLOCK: Reporter John Wilcockson speaking with us from Montpelier, where he's covering the Tour de France for Velo News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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