The way Alberto Contador tore away on a mountaintop finish and outsprinted his chief rival to win the 14th stage of the Tour de France was a flashback to Lance Armstrong's era.
Ironically, the Discovery Channel team may have found a successor to seven-time Tour winner Armstrong in the year the team's sponsorship deal runs out.
"I'm certain Contador will win the Tour in the future," Discovery's sporting director Johan Bruyneel said.
Contador was toe-to-toe with race leader Michael Rasmussen when the pair neared the summit of the 197km ride from Mazamet to Plateau de Beille on Sunday, the first of three tortuous Pyrenees stages.
The two had taken turns to pull up Plateau de Beille in order to separate from rivals Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloeden. Legs churning in perfect unison, they ruthlessly dropped all three.
Then, with 200m left, Contador sized up Rasmussen, made his move down the right, boxed the Dane in next to the barriers and left him in his wake.
It seemed like a replay of Armstrong's win up to Le Grand Bornand in 2004 in the Alps.
Armstrong dropped his teammate Floyd Landis after he'd slogged for him up the hills and then the US rider overtook Kloeden at the top of the final ascent just as the two turned into a corner. Armstrong stormed past him and fist-pumped gleefully at the line.
Contador pumped his fist twice on his heart and then made a gesture with his fingers as if he was firing a pistol to gun down his rivals after winning in 5 hours, 25 seconds, 48 seconds and closing to within 2:23 of Rasmussen.
"This is the Tour de France. You don't give any presents," Rasmussen said. "The Plateau de Beille is not something you give away. It was a very well deserved win."
Even Bruyneel feels Contador has exceeded expectations.
Bruyneel once sent Armstrong an e-mail shortly before the 1999 Tour predicting that Armstrong would be on the Tour podium. He clearly sees a winner in Contador and maybe even a similar independence of spirit.
"When I attacked, it was not programmed by Bruyneel," Contador said. "I chose the moment."
At no stage in the final ascent did Contador look behind to check on the whereabouts of Leipheimer, his team leader.
"Alberto's phenomenal. I certainly have no problem with him being ahead of me," Leipheimer said. "If he doesn't win the Tour this year, he will some day."
Like cancer survivor Armstrong, Contador had serious health setbacks, notably when he suffered a massive blood clot in his brain that required surgery in 2004. The 24-year-old Spaniard took seven months to recover and then won a stage at Australia's Tour Down Under in January 2005.
Going into the Tour de France, Contador impressed by winning the Paris-Nice stage race. He's confident enough to taken on Rasmussen, the two-time holder of the King of the Mountains jersey.
"Rasmussen is very tough and he's in the lead," Contador said. "I will try to attack him."
He was to get another chance on yesterday's 15th stage, a 196km trek from Foix to Loudenvielle-Le Louron that features the Col de Mente, Port de Bales and Col de Peyresourde.
Sunday's big loser was Evans, who had begun the stage 1 minute back of Rasmussen in second place, but fell behind in the last 5km to drop to third, 3:04 back.
"They knew it was the right time to take some time off him [Evans]," Evans' Predictor-Lotto team sporting director Marc Sergeant said.
Leipheimer finished 40 seconds back and sits fourth overall, 4:29 off the pace. Kloeden, who was runner-up to Armstrong in 2004, is fifth, 4:38 back.
"This final climb is just brutal. I don't know what it is about it," Leipheimer said. "But it's always a killer. When there where all those accelerations it just hurt me."
As they celebrated Naomi Osaka’s victory in the final of the US Open in New York City’s Flushing Meadows on Saturday, Tokyoites were eager to embrace their heroines’ stand against racial injustice. Osaka, who won her third Grand Slam title with a victory over Victoria Azarenka, has used her platform to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, wearing a mask bearing the name of a different African American before each of her seven matches in the championship. She had donned masks bearing the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile. On Saturday, she walked
KEY GOAL: Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei is now free to focus on taking her fourth doubles title of the year with Barbora Strycova; they are due to face Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya Taiwanese No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei on Monday returned to the court for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the WTA Tour, falling to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat to US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens, who made a solid transition from the hard courts in New York to the clay at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “I’m not sure how well I adapted, to be honest,” Mertens told the WTA Web site. “I just feel like I might still be struggling a little. It was also [Hsieh’s] first match of the week, so that was a bit of an
‘FUN TIME’: Denver’s Nikola Jokic said that his team would not accept that anyone else is better than them and the opposition need to play much better than they do Just about everyone had LA versus LA written in for the NBA’s Western Conference finals, but the resilient Denver Nuggets have crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is scheduled to be played tomorrow. This was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against the Utah Jazz before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7
THOROUGH THRASHING: Hualien City beat Taichung Blue Whale 2-1, ending their three-year winning streak with one round of matches left and eight points to spare Hualien City on Saturday clinched this year’s Taiwan Mulan Football League title with one game to spare, by beating Taichung Blue Whale 2-1 at Fu Jen Catholic University in New Taipei City. Hualien City have scored 38 points this season. Blue Whale are second on the scoreboard with 30 points, while Taipei Bravo are third with 23 points. One final round of matches is to be played on Saturday. It is the fourth league trophy for Hualien City, and ends Blue Whale’s three-year winning streak. Hualien had won the title from 2014 to 2016. Both teams defended well, leaving few chances in front