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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Armstrong still has doubters

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

"The Tour has changed — (Lance) Armstrong is not so strong in the time trials as he was last year. ... We'll now see if he's as unbeatable as he once was in the mountains." — Igor Gonzalez Galdeano of Spain, Tour de France leader.

Not for the first — or even the 101st — time are they doubting Lance Armstrong.

If it is July and he is pedaling his way toward Paris, then it must be time for Armstrong to prove himself, again.

Never mind that Armstrong, the defending champion of the Tour de France, sport's most exacting test of endurance, is a mere 27 seconds behind the leader with more than the distance of San Diego to Seattle still to be negotiated. Or that yesterday Armstrong had trimmed eight seconds from the margin that had separated them.

So dominating has the Texan been that the slightest chink in his invincibility, or even the perception of one, raises high the hopes of an upset. When Armstrong didn't win a time trial, absorbing a defeat over a long-distance time trial for the first time in four years as happened yesterday, it became man-bites-dog news. Or, as announcers for French television put it in breathless tones that would have done credit to Dick Vitale, "He's been beaten!... He's been beaten!"

There was no need to explain who he is. After three consecutive Tour de France triumphs, it is a given. And, so, in many minds, had been the championship in this one.

Until yesterday. Now, even with the grueling mountains, where he has separated himself from the pack in the past, looming Thursday, there are apparently questions about whether Armstrong still has what it takes.

With Santiago Botero, a climber, having besting him in the time trial, the idea is circulating that Armstrong is vulnerable. That in the Pyrenees, where Gonzalez Galdeano has trained and his countrymen will cross over to cheer, Armstrong can finally be taken.

But, then, Armstrong has thrived on challenges, large and small, in the manner of few before him. Maybe when you have had a tumor the size of a lemon cut away, losing a testicle and parts of a lung and the brain to a particularly virulent form of cancer, even cycling's most formidable competition pales.

Perhaps, when you have been assured there is only a 50/50 chance of pulling through the bout with cancer, the mountains, with forbidding names like "circle of death" and "Giant of Provence," carry a little less awe.

Now, once again the doubters are daring Armstrong to prove himself.

When, you wonder, will they learn?