SILVER CITY, N.M. – Lance Armstrong draws a crowd anywhere he goes, and Tour of the Gila organizers couldn’t be happier about it.
Returning from a broken collarbone, Armstrong has provided a major publicity boost for the New Mexico race, now in its 23rd year. Armstrong, meanwhile, has enjoyed the event’s laid-back, low-key feel.
“It’s good for the first race back,” he said. “To not have to handle the logistics and things like that, it makes it easier. The early stages make for long days. You get back home just past noon. Then you almost sit around and wonder what to do.”
Armstrong placed third Friday in the Gila’s third stage, a time trial that started and finished in the mining village of Tyrone. He covered the hilly 16-mile course in 34 minutes, 22 seconds.”I felt good,” Armstrong said. “Classical old-style, old-school American time trial. Out and back. Hot dog turn in the middle. Pretty cool.”
Armstrong’s teammate, Levi Leipheimer, won in 31:32.59 and remained the Tour of the Gila’s overall leader.
The Astana team riders are using the Gila race to prepare for next week’s Giro d’Italia.Looking ahead to Saturday’s criterium, it will be the first time since a 2005 event in Ojai, Calif., that Armstrong will participate in the speedy – and dangerous – race where cyclists zip around a 1-mile downtown course.
Armstrong said the criterium “makes me the most nervous with the injury” because such races are characterized by aggressive riders.
“Fortunately, we’re in the lead,” he said. “You can ride up front and people will give you a little space hopefully. It’s also got some hills in it, which should thin it out.”
Federer, Nadal win
ROME – Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic posted straight-set wins Friday to set up a semifinal meeting in the Rome Masters, and three-time champion Rafael Nadal advanced in the other half of the draw.
Nadal cruised past eighth-seeded Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-3, improving to 8-0 against his fellow Spaniard. He will play 12th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez, who struggled past Argentine qualifier Juan Monaco 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Federer overcame net-charging German qualifier Mischa Zverev, advancing 7-6 (3), 6-2. Djokovic stayed on course to defend his title in this clay-court warmup for the French Open with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro.
The fast clay at the Foro Italico suits both Federer and Djokovic.
“I think both of us like it, so it’s going to be interesting,” Djokovic said. “I feel quite confident playing here. Each match I play, I feel more comfortable moving on the court and just playing my style of the game.”