PERPIGNAN, France – Lance Armstrong heads to familiar surroundings on Thursday, to the home away from home that for years served as his European refuge.
While the seven-time Tour de France winner is and will always be a son of Texas, it is among the antique and moody surroundings of northern Spain that he spent many of the critical months of his relentless pursuit of success.
Eight years ago Armstrong switched his training base from Nice, in the south of France, to Girona, a satellite city an hour's drive from Barcelona, reacting to treatment from the French public that ranged from distrust and suspicion to outright hostility.
Amid Girona's cobbled streets and charmingly gnarled architecture, the man from Longhorn country found a kind of unobstructed peace that had proven impossible in cycling's spiritual home.
“I had a house in Girona for years and I loved the way I had the freedom to move around town without being disturbed,” said Armstrong. “It is such a great town with amazing people.”
Yet while the roads will evoke memories of old and some long-time friends will come out to wish him well, Armstrong is likely to notice a shift in public attitude toward him during Thursday's Stage 6.
Every indication in the opening week of this enthralling Tour suggests that French sentiment toward him is softening, but Spain has a valid reason to want Armstrong's extraordinary bid for an eighth title to fail.
Alberto Contador, Armstrong's Astana teammate, started out as a heavy favorite to win the Tour. He still is, but now, more significantly, he is also the only rider with any chance of stopping Armstrong.
The Spanish public loves its cycling and is desperate to see Contador wearing the yellow jersey into Paris at the end of this month.
The stages from Girona to Barcelona and Barcelona to Andorra-Arcalis are where Contador can be expected to stretch his legs and assert some authority, spurred on by a supportive crowd as his favored climbing stages approach.
While it would previously have been unusual to suggest Armstrong would welcome a return to France, that may just be the case if the two days in Spain prove difficult.
Previous years have brought much in the way of anti-Armstrong feeling but there has been no sign of it in the traverse across France's Mediterranean coast.
For his part, Armstrong appears to be enjoying the positive focus, and was in an upbeat mood after Wednesday's trek.
Indeed, Tour organizers seem to have been taken by surprise by the level of support for the American and there has been nothing in the way of sensible arrangements regarding access to Armstrong at the end of each stage.
Over-aggressive police forces have endangered the safety of civilians who are at first allowed to get within touching distance of Armstrong, before being forcefully and dangerously shoved backward, often being jammed against barricades.
Interest in Armstrong shows no sign of abating and serious injury to fans is likely unless the matter is rectified.
Either way, Armstrong seemed happy with his day's work on Wednesday, as the peloton made its way from Le Cap d'Agde to Perpignan.
Frenchman Thomas Voeckler was part of an early break and stayed away to win the stage, but there was no significant shift in the overall standings.
Fabian Cancellara held on to the yellow jersey, with Armstrong in second place less than one second back. Contador remained third, 19 seconds behind.
Things, however, are likely to open up significantly during the trek into Spain. What would appear to be a relatively flat bomb around the coast on Thursday is actually punctuated by some tough climbs.
Those should suit Contador, but if Armstrong sticks with him it will further enhance the train of thought that suggests the 37-year-old should lead the Astana team.
Stage 5 might have been the calm before the storm, with more politics, attacks and signals of intent expected over the next few days.
Even as Armstrong comes back to the only place outside of Austin where he truly feels at home, his Tour could be about to get a whole lot less friendly.