It took another fall to finally shock Lance Armstrong into action.
Following a crash in Monday's 15th stage, a shaken Armstrong dug deep, gave himself a talking to, and powered to his first stage win this year, in by far his best performance yet.
The four-time champion calls this year's centennial Tour de France "a crisis-filled" event. After a series of earlier mishaps, Armstrong's bad luck reared its ugly head again Monday.
For the second time this Tour, Armstrong hit the ground -- when a spectator's bag wrapped round his bike's handlebars and upset his balance, sending him tumbling to the ground.
In the Tour's first stage, on July 6, Armstrong was caught in a pile up involving around 35 riders -- emerging from the carnage with a sore back that required a special masseur to be flown in from Italy to treat him.
Since then, the Texan has suffered from technical problems with his bike, ill-fitting shoes, dehydration, and the unrelenting sun gripping France in a heat wave.
"There have been a lot of strange things happening," Armstrong said. "It's been a very odd, crisis-filled Tour."
Armstrong, who clinched the 16th stage win of his Tour career Monday -- his first came at Verdun in 1993 -- has lamented his ill luck of late, seeking solace for his less than mediocre showing by steadily complaining of the heat.
However, the weather was overcast and foggy Monday, the heat diminished, and Armstrong finally emerged from his own dark cloud.
"After the fall, I had a rush of adrenaline, and I said one more time, `Lance, if you'd like to win the Tour de France, it's today,'" he said.
The Texan got angry -- with his own average form and doubtless with the events conspiring against him.
"That's sometimes the best way for me to ride ... angry," Armstrong said. "I was desperate today. I knew I had to put some time into [German cyclist Jan] Ullrich ahead of the next time trial."
In the closest race he has ever known since winning his first Tour in 1999, Armstrong is just more than a minute ahead of Ullrich -- the feisty German rider who obliterated him in the individual time trial on July 18.
Ullrich, a Tour winner in 1997 and a runner-up to Armstrong in 2000 and 2001, showed he is more than an outstanding competitor Monday.
He is also a gentleman.
Following Armstrong's fall -- after which Spain's Iban Mayo rammed into the back of the Texan and was also grounded -- Ullrich had the yellow jersey within his reach with a handful of kilometers left to race.
Instead of surging ahead, the German glanced back and then waited, before forming a line in a slow procession with several other riders -- including Armstrong's former US Postal teammate Tyler Hamilton -- thus allowing the Texan to catch up.
"Jan's an honorable guy. He probably didn't forget that when he crashed in 2001, in what appeared to be a serious crash, I told everyone: `We can't race until he gets back up,'" Armstrong said.
There is no animosity between the pair -- evenly matched in a likely two-way battle for supremacy that could last all the way to the Champs-Elysees on July 27 -- only mutual respect.
"As we say in English: `What goes around comes around,' and so I appreciate him doing that," Armstrong added.
With one mountain stage left Wednesday -- three Alpine and three Pyrenees stages have been conquered so far -- Ullrich sits 1:07 behind the Texan.