Calasparra - Lance Armstrong is feeling the physical demands of his second year back in cycling.
The 38-year-old Armstrong said on Thursday he "suffered a little bit" at the start of the Vuelta of Murcia, his first race in five weeks. Nerves even came into play.
"It's just the tempo," he said. "It was a windy day, it's nervous and at the end we're doing 60-70km an hour, and you can't simulate that in training. So you're a little bit out of element."
Team RadioShack boss Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong, who was 46th with the same time as leader South African Robert Hunter of Garmin-Transitions, was "still a long way off from being in good shape right now."
"He's a bit better than last year, but he's different," Bruyneel said. "Last year everything was new, we had lost all of the references. The whole time we lived with doubt - doubt whether he would reach a certain level, how would that level be, what do we have to do. Now we know he can reach a competitive level."
Armstrong said memories of last year's crash in the first stage of the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon did not resurface even if it was his first trip back to Spain since the accident, which led to surgery on a broken collarbone.
"The key there is don't be in the back," the seven-time Tour de France champion said. "I was at the back and you get caught behind the crashes and stupid stuff happens."
Bruyneel attributed the crash to qualities one never would have associated with the American: "Uncertainty, doubts, not having the same reflexes as before - he had lost everything."
Armstrong is making up for lost training time in Murcia, where Saturday's 22km time trial will provide a big boost for his hopes of winning the Tour.
"We didn't have time to focus on specific things," Bruyneel said. "Last year was more general training without an idea of where it would go."
RadioShack was coming together well and that was key to Armstrong's chase for the Tour title, which used to be a guarantee.
"Until 2005 we knew that if things went well - the preparation, if there were no crashes, no one got sick, no mechanical problems on the course and if the team worked well - we had certain guarantees to win the Tour," Bruyneel said. "Now, that's not the case."
Former teammate Alberto Contador won last year's cycling classic when the two riders were at Astana, and the drop from favorite to front-runner was helping Armstrong, who finished third.
"He tries to win but it's not like in 2005 when it started to become an obligation. There was a lot more distractions and negatives and now we're trying to cut all the negative and to enjoy what we do," Bruyneel said.
"It feels like 2004-05. There's super ambiance, everyone enjoys what they're doing. It's a little bit better than last year."