Lance Armstrong says he is no longer a contender at Tour de France
Reporting from Morzine, France — Lance Armstrong will not win an eighth Tour de France.
Armstrong knew that as soon as his wheel hit the curb Sunday in a roundabout, as quickly as he felt himself rolling on the ground, when he saw his tire fly off, exactly when he noticed his saddle was no longer attached to his bike.
The 38-year-old seven-time champion rode the last 32 miles of the 117.5-mile Stage 8 with a hole torn in the back of his shirt, with his RadioShack number, 21, flapping in the wind, with a bandage on his elbow and his left hip aching.
“No tears for me,” the bruised and battered and proud Armstrong said. “There’s been a lot of years where it’s been very different.”
When the stage was over, after Armstrong had crashed once and nearly tumbled two more times, he had lost more than 12 minutes to the favorites.
He finished 61st in the climbing stage, 11:45 behind the winner, Andy Schleck, a fresh-legged 25-year-old from Luxembourg.
Schleck, riding for Saxo Bank, put his stamp on this mountaintop finish jumping on his pedals and raising his arms triumphantly across the finish above the town of Morzine on a hilltop called Avoriaz.
Schleck finished in 4 hours 54.11 minutes. He is in second place overall, behind new leader Cadel Evans, an Australian riding for BMC Racing who has an overall time of 37 hours 57.09 minutes. Schleck is 20 seconds behind Evans, a two-time Tour runner-up, with defending champion Alberto Contador, the Spaniard from Astana, who is third overall, 1:01 back.
Armstrong is 39th, 13:26 behind Evans, and even when offered a lifeline from a questioner who wondered whether perhaps Armstrong had a miracle left with one more Alps stage and three tough days in the Pyrenees still ahead before the race ends July 25 in Paris, Armstrong said, “No way.
“I can stay in the race and try to win stages,” he said. “I can try to help my team, but I’m not a contender. There wasn’t much I could do” after the crash.
Armstrong seemed unemotional as he crossed the finish line, bedraggled, with his tongue hanging out.
“I had a couple of hours to think about it during the end of the stage,” he said. “I had time to appreciate the surroundings, appreciate the fans and know it’s not going to be my year this time.”
It was the crash, 82 miles into the stage and just as the peloton was picking up the pace for the penultimate climb up Col de la Ramaz, where Armstrong said he started his downward spiral.
“We just came to a roundabout and I touched a pedal [to the pavement] and my front tire rolled off,” he said. “It was hard to recover from something like that and it went from bad to worse.”
Armstrong needed to get a new bike and restart his inner motor. One was easy, the other wasn’t.
Schleck, last year’s runner-up, said he was disappointed for Armstrong.
“All respect to him,” Schleck said. “To be really honest, I’m a little bit sorry for him. He really wanted to be really good this last time. His morale is a little bit down I think. But I still believe he will win a stage.”
Soon after Armstrong was led back to the peloton by his RadioShack teammates after the crash, the Texan began noticeably slowing down. Teammates tried to pace him to the leaders again, but the birdlike Contador and Schleck, who finds climbing steep hills liberating, and stoic Evans, whose high hopes have often failed because of weak teams, made it seem as if Armstrong were standing still.
“When you’re rolling around on the ground going 60 kilometers an hour,” Armstrong said, “you know you’re not going to feel the same. I just couldn’t recover.”
Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong’s longtime mentor and sports director for all seven of his Tour wins, simply said at the end of the stage, “Lance can’t contend now.”
The RadioShack team will need to ride for Levi Leipheimer, the three-time Amgen Tour of California champion who is eighth overall, 2:14 behind Evans.
Leipheimer had last week talked about how the layout of this Tour suited him because he has always ridden better in the Pyrenees than the Alps. The Tour takes a break Monday with a rest day. RadioShack will need a chalkboard session and a new plan.