SILVER CITY, New Mexico (AP) - Although Lance Armstrong still has improvements to make in his buildup to the Giro d'Italia, he believes his decision to race in the Tour of the Gila was a good move.
After several weeks of training in the Colorado mountains, the climate has been more favorable in New Mexico.
"Similar elevations, but warmer and sunnier," Armstrong said on Thursday. "It's a good continuation because we'll have a whole month at elevation before the Tour of Italy. It works well."
Astana general manager Johan Bruyneel, who oversaw Armstrong's seven Tour de France titles, said Armstrong's conditioning wouldn't put him in contention next week in Italy, "but he can improve."
That's because Armstrong's fitness is sure to increase during the Giro. Right now, Bruyneel said, Armstrong is at the level he showed before breaking his collarbone last month during a crash in Spain.
"No more crashes and just time," Bruyneel said when asked what Armstrong needs. "This week will be very good training to get the intensity that he's lacking. He needs to get some speed in the legs for the start of the Giro."
Armstrong got plenty of speed during the finish of Thursday's second stage of the five-day Tour of the Gila. The 80-mile (129-kilometer) stage ended in a mass sprint, won by Colavita team racer Lucas Sebastian Haedo of Argentina.
Armstrong crossed with the large pack, along with teammates Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner. The Astana riders are entered independently this week, wearing the kits of Armstrong's Mellow Johnny's bike shop.
"It was another hard day," Horner said. "Lance and I rode the front for 80 kilometers."
Besides another tough workout, Armstrong was pulled into doping control.
"Been awhile. Thought they forgot about me," he reported on his Twitter feed.
The course featured a dangerous 3-mile (5-kilometer) descent at the 27-mile (44-kilometer) mark, followed by rolling hills and a climb over the 6,710-foot (2,000-meter) summit of the Continental Divide, then a sharp rise back to the Silver City area.
There were a few breakaways over the final 12 miles (19 kilometers), including one with OUCH team cyclist and former Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, but the peleton had no trouble catching up.
"Everybody was there at the end," Horner said.
Bruyneel said this kind of racing bodes well for Armstrong, provided he can get through the next three days without incident.
The Mellow Johnny's team isn't here to win, just to get into race shape, and Leipheimer's victory in the opening stage was a bonus. As for Armstrong, Bruyneel said the focus was on his form.
"It's difficult to evaluate among a peleton which isn't up to the level of European races, but he did a lot of work yesterday," Bruyneel said.
Asked what he expects for himself in Italy, Armstrong hedged. He said the top favorite will be Italian Ivan Basso, then made an argument for Leipheimer, who remained the Gila's overall race leader.
"He's had a great year," Armstrong said. "He's riding well and he's motivated.
He doesn't race like the Italians do, but he's close. My responsibility will be to ride strong and to help him."