Team RadioShack sports director Johan Bruyneel has said that Lance Armstrong is lighter but stronger compared to when he came out of retirement this time last year, something that should stand the cyclist in good stead this year as he attempts to win a record eighth Tour de France.
According to the Press Association, Bruyneel attruibutes that change in physique to the Texan’s focus on cycling over the last 12 months.
"The biggest difference that people see (in Armstrong) is he's a lot smaller, his upper body is very different,” explained Bruyneel, who worked alongside Armstrong in each of his seven Tour de France victories between 1999 and 2005.
"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.
"One of them was weightlifting. It makes you look good at the beach, but it's not for the best for a bike rider. Since he started to race, he (hasn't) lifted weights any more, but of course losing muscle takes a long time,” the Belgian added.
Last month, Armstrong finished 25th overall in the Tour Down Under, four places higher than he managed last year in his first race after coming out of retirement.
"Lance is good, he's a lot different (to) last year, physically his form is a lot better, he feels good in the bunch and he feels good in the team," claimed Bruyneel.
"So that's three things that are a lot better than last year,” he continued. "He feels a lot better on the bike, so all good."
Last week it was revealed that Armstrong’s build up to the Tour de France this year will include him taking part in a number of the spring classics, including Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastoge- Liège and the Amstel Gold.
Prior to being struck by cancer in 1996, Armstrong had proved himself in one-day races, twice coming second in Liège-Bastoge- Liège, wining the Flèche Wallonne and of course becoming World Road Race Champion in Oslo in 1993.
Since his first comeback in 1998, when he finished fourth in the Vuelta, Armstrong has tended to give the spring one-day races a miss, however, although he did finish second in the Amstel Gold twice, in 1999 and 2001.
The focus on those races this year is also likely to be motivated in part by the opening days of the 2010 Tour de France having very much a classic flavour after the Grand Départ in Rotterdam, with the itinerary incorporating parts of the routes of races such as the Flèche Walonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Paris-Roubaix, including the biggest number of cobbled sections for a quarter of a century as the Tour heads through Belgium into Northern France.
Other early-season races that Armstrong will take part in include the Tour of Murcia from March 3-7, and the International Criterium in Corsica, and following the end of the classics season he will return to the US for the Tour of California in May.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.