That kind of sentiment will surely set the flags waving at the Olympics, much to the chagrin of the other riders. "In Europe he already rides on so much emotion, and that is why he's so strong," says Herv�. "Bring him here, in front of the home fans, and he will be almost unbeatable."
Before the Tour DuPont, Armstrong's successes this spring came in the long, steep European classics, one-day races in which he unleashed his horsepower and aggression. The 144-mile Olympic road race is also a one-day event, but the course is too flat for Armstrong's liking, opening it up for the sprinters, especially France's Laurent Jalabert, the world's top-ranked rider.
"I have too much respect for the other riders' abilities to say I'm expecting to win the gold," says Armstrong. "But I'll be up there. And the Tour DuPont has shown me what kind of support I'm going to get. It's going to be huge."
Of course, there's a little French race to be run in the weeks before the Olympics. If Armstrong is in fact the next Greg LeMond, he will need to make a run at the Tour de France. But here's the pickle: The explosiveness that makes Armstrong so tough in the classics and short stage races like the DuPont is exactly what drags him down in the 21-stage Tour de France. He's a sturdy 175 pounds, and that's a lot of beef to schlep up the Pyrenees and the Alps day after day. Short of dropping 15 pounds, Armstrong's best hope to steal a tour is to crush the time trials, which has been the secret to Miguel Indur�in's five straight wins. Once a weakness, Armstrong's time trialing has gotten so good that he set a DuPont record with an average speed of 32.89 mph during the third stage. "I will contend for the Tour de France," Armstrong says. "I know that now. It's not going to happen this year. I could kill myself to finish third, but what's the use with the Olympics just 10 days later? I'm going to the tour strictly for preparation."
That may sound like heresy, but being the new poster boy for cycling in this country has changed a few priorities. A victorious ride down the Champs Elys�es would be nice, but there's nothing like winning the big one in front of the folks at home.
"These last two weeks I've seen how much a gold medal would mean to the fans and to cycling," Armstrong says. And here he pauses. "I'm starting to learn about my place in the sport."