Lance Armstrong Down Under: Nervous Nellie

Sunday marked Lance Armstrong's return to professional cycling with a short spin around Adelaide, Australia that was broadcast here Sunday afternoon on the Versus network. The rapid circuit race was just a prequel to the Tour Down Under itself, which started in earnest earlier today with its first stage. Versus will show the stage in the U.S. later this afternoon.

As for that Sunday spin, it was interesting to see an over-the-hill guy of more than 35 years (who often inspires as much derision as he does admiration), and who hails from an English-speaking country but is riding for a team based in the old Soviet bloc, blow past the rest of the field for a victory.

We're talking about Robbie McEwen, of course, the 36-year-old Australian who rides for a Russia-based team, Katusha.  The diminutive sprinter did what he does best, bedeviling the more organized sprinter's teams to come out of nowhere and steal the victory.

Meanwhile, that other old guy, the 37-year-old Texan riding for a team based in Kazakhstan, was happy to finish safely in 64th place.

McEwen, reportedly, isn't well liked among his fellow competitors, and tends to inspire equal amounts of love and hate from fans. The guy's a smart ass, and that's why I've long enjoyed his victories - for one thing, he's the rare athlete who usually has something interesting to say in post-race interviews.

And Sunday, he didn't disappoint. Asked whether he'd had a chance to speak with Lance during the race, Robbie said that early on, he'd pulled up alongside Armstrong and welcomed him back to the pro peleton. McEwen said that Armstrong had thanked him, but didn't take his hand off the bars to shake hands for fear of a tumble.

Good thinking, Lance. It's great for his Giro and Tour plans that he's getting some hot Aussie miles in January, but he knows the most important thing right now is just to avoid crashes!

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