Lance’s luck goes in cycles

All
the good fortune Lance Armstrong enjoyed during his glorious reign was ended
over the weekend.

Stage
eight of the Tour de France put paid to Armstrong’s dream of an eighth Tour de
France title in his final appearance at the event.

Armstrong
had seven years’ good luck during his reign as Tour de France champion, with
his reign characterised by few mistakes and even fewer crashes. However, all
the bad luck seemed to catch up to him on Sunday, as he was involved in three
crashes, the worst coming at a crucial stage of the race.

Even
though the physical damage caused by the crashes might not have been
catastrophic, the mental blow was fatal to Armstrong’s Tour. Surrounded by
teammates, Armstrong struggled to chase back up to the lead bunch on the second
to last climb of the day.

As
the pace was ratcheted up in front by Team Sky and Team Saxobank, a clearly
suffering Armstrong slipped off the back again, his ripped jersey flapping in
the wind. His teammates tried to pull him back to the bunch on the following
downhill section and the flat before the final big climb, but another small
crash in the chasing bunch was clearly just too much for Armstrong.

As
he got back on his bike the former Tour champion looked angry, but more than
that, he looked resigned as he shook his head and gave up the chase. One of his
RadioShack teammates who had been helping him, Chris Horner, was allowed to set
his own pace and limit his losses to the leaders as Armstrong, in the company
of teammate Janez Brajkovic, struggled up the final climb.

It
was a far cry from the cyclist who had dominated the climbs of the Tour de
France for so many years. There was no dancing on the pedals as Armstrong
suddenly looked very human indeed.

At
the front of the race, defending champion Alberto Contador’s Astana team worked
hard to distance all other contenders, eventually whittling the group down to
only top climbers. Contador was eventually left as the lone representative of
the Astana team, with last year’s runner up Andy Schleck (Saxobank), Giro
d’Italia champion Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Denis Menchov and
Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), Olympic road race champion
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), world champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Jurgen Van
Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), 2008 Tour champion Carlos Sastre, Michael
Rogers (HTC-Columbia) and Joaquin Rodriguez.

A
notable absentee was last year’s fourth-place finisher, Bradley Wiggins (Sky),
who was dropped on the climb and lost 1:45 on the climb to the finish line.

Kreuziger
was the first to attack from the group, only to be reeled back in by Contador.
Schleck seemed to respond easily to the attacks, while Evans seemed to labour a
bit as he made his way across to the wheels. Van Den Broeck was next to go,
with Gesink then launching the most telling attack, opening a gap on the rest
before being reeled back in. However, it was Schleck who made the winning break
as he sprinted clear to be joined by Sanchez. Contador was unable to respond as
the two attackers opened up a significant gap and started thinking about the
stage win. Sanchez led out the sprint, probably believing that he could
out-sprint Schleck, but a highly motivated Schleck sprinted past Sanchez for
the victory. After the finish, Schleck dedicated the victory to his brother
Frank, who crashed out of the Tour on stage three.

They
were followed home 10 seconds later by Gesink, Kreuziger, Contador, Evans, Van
Den Broeck, Leipheimer, Basso, Menchov and Sastre, with Rogers trailing another
10 seconds back, and Rodriguez cruising in last of the leaders.

Although
he lost 10 seconds to Schleck, Evans’ time was good enough to grab the yellow
jersey from Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep), who was still well down the slopes.

Armstrong
trailed in more than 11 minutes down on the leaders, just behind Chavanel. Even
though he had been invincible for seven years, Armstrong looked, for the first
time, like a man ready to hang up his bike for good.

However,
after the stage Armstrong made it clear that he would stay in the race and ride
all the way to Paris in this, his final Tour, stating that he would now shift
his focus to going for a stage win rather than the overall, which now seems
well out of reach.

SPORTSLancesluckSTORY

Lance Armstrong’s changes of repeating his third place finish of last year seems to have slipped away.
Photo: Eugene Bonthuys
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