Lance Armstrong saw his Tour de France hopes evaporate into thin air in the mountains of France. Armstrong was involved in three crashes on the day hitting the pavement on two. The first came shortly after the stage began and Armstrong was able to stay upright. The second happened at the worst possible time, just as the small group of favorites was to begin the climb up the Col de la Ramaz. Armstrong was just able to catch up to the group when a well-timed acceleration by Team Sky pushed him over the limit and spit him out the back. To add insult to injury, a third crash occurred on the climb up the Morzine. Although Lance didn’t hit the ground, his bike was tangled with those that did. A dejected Armstrong stood with his hands on his hips before shaking his head and getting back on his bike to finish eleven minutes behind stage winner Andy Schleck.
“My Tour is finished but I’m going to hang in there and enjoy my last Tour de France” said Armstrong after the race. In winning his record seven Tour de France titles, I can only recall Armstrong crashing once (although I’m sure there were more) and luck always seemed to be on his side. Unfortunately lady luck chose not to smile on Armstrong this year. Now he becomes the ultimate super domestique for friend and teammate Levi Leipheimer who finished with the small group of elites, ten seconds behind Schleck, and now sits in eighth place overall. Given Leipheimer’s time trialing skills, it’s not a stretch for him to be standing on the podium in Paris.
Andy Schleck who won today’s stage was clearly the strongest of the GC favorites gaining time on all his rivals and moving into second overall behind race leader Cadel Evans. Clearly Schleck will need to put distance between himself and the other GC riders because his Achilles has always been the time trial. There is a 52 kilometer race of truth waiting for him in the Tour’s penultimate stage in two weeks and the final TT is mostly flat which does not play to his strength.
New race leader Cadel Evans also finished with the elite group of nine riders ten seconds behind Schleck. Tuesday’s stage over the Col de la Madeleine should prove selective but since it is not a summit finish, I look for a regrouping on the 32 kilometer run in to St. Jean de Maurienne. Evans should be able to keep the coveted golden fleece for another stage given his descending skills. Strategically, BMC will probably look to get rid of the jersey and make another team do the work through the Pyrenees Mountains. This would allow Evans to yield a little time to Schleck in the mountains and set the Aussie up to take it back in the final time trial which plays to his strength.
The other surprise on the day, aside from Armstrong’s poor luck, was Contador’s inability to respond to Schleck’s attack. The Spaniard was under assault from multiple riders in the final two kilometers but when Schleck accelerated the only one able to go with him was Sammy Sanchez.
With a summit finish atop the Col du Tourmalet still to come, there is still a chance for massive time gains to be had by the GC favorites. We’re only a third of the way through the Tour and this year’s race is still up for grabs. In a Tour that seems like Murphy’s Law is in control, this year’s winner may be the one that has the best luck.
For Armstrong, he can enjoy the rest of this year’s tour with no pressure; return to Texas for some well deserved rest, cold Shiner Bock, and Chuy’s with the knowledge that he has 15 months to get ready for the Ironman. Now let’s hope they show it live.
The GC after today’s stage:
|1||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||37:57:09|
|2||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||0:00:20|
|3||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana||0:01:01|
|4||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:01:03|
|5||Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank||0:01:10|
|6||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin – Transitions||0:01:11|
|7||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo||0:01:45|
|8||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack||0:02:14|
|9||Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||0:02:15|
|10||Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC – Columbia||0:02:31|
|11||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank||0:02:37|
|12||Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||0:02:40|
|13||Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||0:02:41|
|14||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team||0:02:45|
|15||Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana||0:03:05|
For more great Tour analysis, although he’s probably writing about World Cup today, visit my good friend Tim Liew @ The Armchair Sportsfan.