And, soon enough, there may be some frictions between Contador and Armstrong on the Astana team. "I've never subscribed to the theory that there is only one leader on this team," Armstrong told France 2 TV after today's stage, which saw the U.S. cyclist pass Contador in the overall standings. "If I won the Tour de France seven times, I deserve some respect. For now, I would not count me out."
Since his return to the Tour, Lance Armstrong has launched a charm offensive, captivating the attention of the media and the fans. The contrast is striking with the Lance Armstrong of previous Tours.
After years of difficult relations with much of the French public, mainly because Armstrong was seen as arrogant, it seems that he is little by little winning the hearts of the public, even receiving the biggest ovation at Thursday's team presentation in Monaco.
Before the start of the time trial in Monaco Saturday, Armstrong looked relaxed and waved at the crowd, something he did not do in previous years. After the race, he even took the time to answer questions from pressing journalists and went on signing autographs.
"People were superb [on the side of the road]," Armstrong said after the trial. "It was like a home race. It was nice."
Others have noticed the difference. "Armstrong is much more accessible," commentator Liggett said. "He is very conscious of the fact he wants to raise awareness for cancer and to raise big money for cancer and the only way to do that is to make himself much more accessible."
The love-hate relationship between Armstrong and the French may be explained by the doping allegations that have surfaced on many occasions in the French media over the years. But Armstrong was never caught cheating, despite the continuous suspicion. And he, along with his fellow professional cyclists, is perhaps the most controlled athlete in the world.
"Surprise anti-doping control," Armstrong wrote on Twitter in mid-June while in the United States. "Think it's the 31st time [since his return] but not sure any more. Part of the job."
No matter how well Armstrong does in this year's Tour, there is no doubt that his return will have created a certain excitement among Tour de France lovers on both sides of the Atlantic. An excitement that has not been seen since Armstrong left the Tour de France four years ago.
Lance Armstrong is currently in third position overall, 40 seconds behind the leader of the race, Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland. The Tour ends in Paris on July 26th.