$0.02: Armstrong pegs Basso as this year’s Tour favorite | SummitDaily.com

$0.02: Armstrong pegs Basso as this year’s Tour favorite

Devon O'Neil

For the first time in eight years, the Agency for Realistic Conversations in Sport is off the hook in France. Lance Armstrong retired, see, which means ARCS (that’s what we’re calling it, anyway) no longer must slap the wrists of those who said the world’s most popular internationally involved Texan would fail to win the Tour de France.Let the debate begin. Which cyclist will succeed Armstrong, the seven-time defending champ, on July 23? It’s been quite a while since those in the know could argue such a point without feeling silly.Nevertheless, the time has arrived and it seems a good place to start with Armstrong himself. Tuesday, while in Belgium for the Giro d’Italia, Armstrong tabbed CSC captain Ivan Basso as the favorite with seven weeks to go until the Tour de France begins.

“At the moment I would say it has to be Basso,” Armstrong told the news agency AFP.For those who follow Armstrong’s every word – and, sadly, there are plenty – this represents an about-face. Armstrong previously had pegged perennial Tour bridesmaid Jan Ullrich as his pick for ’06.Armstrong explained his change of heart by saying of Ullrich’s fitness: “… He seems to be behind again. If he’s only five kilograms overweight that’s pretty good for him, but I don’t understand him. He has so much to gain. I don’t know if he loves the bike or not, but he could be the biggest sporting star in Germany.”Fifty-two days of intrigue, and counting down. …

If anyone thought LeBron James was just another “Next Michael,” I suspect that by now they understand they were wrong. You really can’t put into words how good James is. All of the usual superlatives fall short.The second-round games excepted (how does Detroit do it?), James looked like a shark among minnows in the first-round series against Washington. He does things that make you shake the guy next to you. And all with ease. …More power to the folks who made this one happen: On May 14, Mother’s Day, some of baseball’s bigger stars will go up to bat with pink Louisville Sluggers. Yes, pink. It’s all part of “Go to Bat Against Breast Cancer.”Among the names slated to participate in the event are Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., David Ortiz and Jim Thome. After the games, the players will sign the bats and they’ll be auctioned off to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation. …

You almost don’t think of this stuff when considering major international sporting events, but it’s real. As announced late last week, the U.S. team bus carrying America’s national soccer team at next month’s World Cup will be the only bus out of 32 not adorned with its nation’s flag.The reason? Security. State Department officials routinely travel with the U.S. team for similar reasons. And at the 2002 World Cup, tanks guarded airport runways when the American team landed in South Korea, and SWAT team commandos teamed with police to protect U.S. players while they walked through the airport. …In parting, New Jersey has announced that it will test high school athletes for drugs when they compete in state championships. The sad part? This ain’t a sign of the Apocalypse. It’s a sign of real life.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at doneil@summitdaily.com. His column will not appear next week, returning instead on May 24.

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