"Before, if my seat moved a millimeter, I knew it. My seat height was so low last year, and people would tell me, 'Hey, your seat is too low.' And I said, What are you talking about? And then this year I decided to really focus on the seat height, and I got it to a place where it was back in '04 and '05. And then I went and compared where it is today to where it was all of last year. Two and a half centimeters too low! That's like saying, 'I've got a six-inch lift in one of my shoes.' That stuff didn't register with me in 2009."
This being Lance, he can't quite steer clear of anti-doping controversy. He's now working with physiologist Allen Lim, considered one of the nice guys of cycling and a proponent of clean racing but still a controversial figure since he was Floyd Landis's training guru. Landis won the Tour de France in 2006 but was then disqualified for having elevated testosterone levels. (Lim says he knew nothing of Landis's alleged doping.)
Lim is a proponent of speed through lower body temperature. He's had Armstrong swallowing pill-size thermometers that test his core temperature and experimenting with pre-race ice vests and other newfangled techniques to keep Lance cool. "We created a new sports drink just for Lance," says Lim. "Regular sports drinks can leave you with gastrointestinal problems if you're drinking a lot of them. There's no artificial colorings or flavors in ours. If it tastes like blueberry, it's because we're using freeze-dried blueberries. We're also using a different kind of salt than table salt." When I ask him what kind of salt, Lim laughs. "I can't tell you that."
The more Armstrong drinks, the cooler he'll be, and the faster he'll ride – at least that's the theory. "The hydration part I have always been bad about," says Armstrong. "I'm one of these guys that you get two hours into the ride, and you realize you haven't touched your bottle. That's always been my story. And that's a bad thing. It's taken somebody standing over me saying, 'Drink.' It sounds very simple, but drink, drink."
Still, Armstrong knows that all the seat adjustments and ice cubes can't guarantee he'll catch the decade-younger Contador. Armstrong has always been a great time-trial cyclist, so much so that he spent little time training for that aspect in the off-season. This year, it's a new focus, all with the hope of shaving off a few precious seconds.
"Contador can attack where nobody can follow," says Armstrong. "Regardless of how young you are, how much you train. His accelerations are unmatched. Unmatchable. But they don't necessarily sustain either, so you've got to be a little more patient there. I need to just continue at a tempo that's my tempo but is a fast tempo."
Bruyneel is cautiously optimistic. "Endurance is something that older athletes like Lance have no problem with. We'll use that." But then come the mind games. "Alberto is a great rider, but we know him. We know him like we've never known an opponent before. We know what he likes and doesn't like to do on the bike. That will help us. Will that be enough? We'll see."