Tue, Jul 13, 2010 - Page 18 News List

Armstrong’s ambitions ended in Alps

LANCE ‘PEGGED’Andy Schleck won the stage, while Cadel Evans took the yellow jersey as the leaders left Armstrong trailing on the first stage in the mountains

AP , MORZINE, FRANCE

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong of the US, right, pats the wig of a fan as he rides the eighth stage of the Tour de France between Station des Rousses and Morzine-Avoriaz, France, on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Lance Armstrong promised a shake up in the French Alps, but instead it was the seven-time Tour de France champion feeling shaken after one of his worst ever days racing.

Normally the one punishing others when the Tour hit the harsh mountains, Armstrong found himself on the receiving end, conceding that his ambitions of an eighth Tour title were at a premature end.

“The Tour’s finished for me,” Armstrong said after Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck won the stage to move within 20 seconds of race leader Cadel Evans of Australia.

The 38-year-old Texan finished Sunday’s eighth stage in 61st place after laboring in stifling heat, hauling his battered body up mountain passes he used to glide up.

In a chaotic and dangerous Tour, Armstrong was more than 13 minutes behind Evans ahead of yesterday’s much-needed rest day.

“I have cuts everywhere,” Armstrong said. “Biggest problem is the left hip, which for riding is not the best.”

Dented pride should also be added to Armstrong’s list of ailments. He crossed the finish line with an unusual air of resignation.

Rather than think about Tour win No. 8, Armstrong is already in reminiscence mode with two full weeks still to go until Paris.

“No tears from me. I’ve had a lot of years here where it’s been very different, so I’m not going to dwell on today,” Armstrong said. “Really try and appreciate my time here and the fact I’m not coming back here.”

The fist-pumping, hands-in-the-air showmanship of Armstrong’s glory era from 1999 to 2005 were faded memories after a ferocious day of climbing that proved too much for the Texan’s aging legs and weary mind.

Armstrong is in no doubt that, with a bad hip and a deficit of 13 minutes, 26 seconds on Evans — and with more punishing Alpine climbs to come and the even-harder Pyrenees — he may as well enjoy his last days in France.

“Look around, appreciate the fans and know that it’s not going to be my year,” he said.

Such defeatist talk would have seemed truly astonishing a few years ago, but long gone are the days when Armstrong and his “Blue Train” — the name given to his former US Postal teammates — would control the race.

“During his period of domination, in the first mountain stage in high altitudes, he’d hit hard,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said.

On Sunday, Armstrong was the one getting “pegged,” as he called it.

His team was scattered all over a 189km trek from Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz that featured two steep climbs and an uphill finish.

Postal’s sleek “Blue Train” has been replaced by a mixture of RadioShack veterans past their prime — like Andreas Kloeden and Chris Horner — and young aspirants like Janez Brajkovic, lacking the experience to salvage tough situations.

Armstrong’s glittering career may never be matched by the likes of defending champion Alberto Contador — who has two Tour wins at the age of 27 — and most certainly never will by Evans or Schleck, but the trio sensed they could destroy Armstrong’s Tour hopes and the opportunity was too good to miss.

Schleck pulled clear with less than a kilometer to go and won a two-man sprint ahead of Samuel Sanchez of Spain. Contador and Evans were 10 seconds back.

Armstrong’s day started badly — an early morning anti-doping control he tweeted about — and then became an unfolding nightmare.

With breakaway riders setting a frenetic pace early on, Armstrong narrowly averted a spill as he veered onto the roadside grass. Evans fell, but quickly recovered.

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