Sunday, July 11, 2010

TDF 2010 Stage 8: Armstrong's Hard Day at the Office

July 11, 2010
Pics ASO (c)
Some might call it bad luck, others might say it's the sign of an aging rider. But whatever your take, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was left behind today on the first defining stage through the French Alps, and is now 11 minutes and 45 seconds behind the leader.

Armstrong's third crash behind Euskaltel rider on col de la Ramaz

Instead Andy Schleck showed he could manage the heat and pass his competitors at the final kilometers to the top, winning the stage handily.  Because of the previous standings, Cadel Evans, who stayed with the front group and arrived 6th over the finish line, became the new Yellow Jersey holder with 20 seconds ahead of Schleck in the overall classification.

Schleck was jubilant after his win: “I take some really good morale from knowing that I could attack and not have Contador follow me," he said. When asked if he thought the Yellow Jersey would soon be his, he hinted it might be in the Pyrenees, which start in stage 13 with the climb to Ax 3 Domaines.

Evans was in disbelief over his Yellow Jersey win: he said his crash early in the race was a hard one, but affected mostly his arms, and not his legs. The dynamic between Contador and Armstrong helped him too he said: “When Armstrong is dropped, Contador wants to put him as far out of the classification as possible and the way Astana rode put us in a really good position."  But holding onto the Yellow will be harder than he thinks.

The boys in aqua and yellow push the pace up the Col de Morzine to put distance from Armstrong, and make other riders suffer

No doubt about it, all of the riders were suffering on the final 7 miles up the col to Morzine Avoriaz, even Alberto Contador who was dumped in the last few kilometers to the summit after repeated attacks, first from Robert Gesink, then Roman Kreuziger, then Schleck, then Sammy Sanchez of Euskaltel. Each attack was followed by the top riders, Contador, Evans, Basso, and Schleck.

But it was Schleck who was fittest. After the third attack he made an attempt to ride away himself, with a follow by Olympic champion Sanchez who passed him. It was the last attack that Contador could handle, and not even his entourage of Astana riders could help him respond, because by this time, they too had been left behind.

Schleck attacks in the final 3 km

Schleck followed Sanchez up the final kilometer and won the stage by a bike length. It was a defining moment for him because it was his brother Frank Schleck who in last year's difficult Tour climbing stages worked with his younger brother to exhaust other riders, but also pace Andy to the top. This time Frank is out of the race, having crashed in stage 3 with a broken collarbone, and Andy was on his own.

The second crash where Armstrong sustained injuries and lost the most time

Armstrong lost significant time in three crashes today, and by the time he lost contact with the lead group, he was bandaged and bleeding in three places.

His first mishap occurred 6 km from the start, when there was a crash in the front of the field that took out a number of riders including Cadel Evans (BMC), Jerome Pineau (QST), and Roman Kreuziger (LIQ) who all remounted the bike but needed medical attention after they had rejoined the main group. Armstrong made his way around the crash by riding onto the grass on the side of the road. (Breakaway below)

On the approach to the col de la Ramaz, the Rabobank and BMC teams started moving to the front of the peloton. A three-man break that consisted of Mario Aerts (OLO),  Moerenhout (RAB) and Moinard (Cofidis) was ahead by 6 minutes and 15 seconds.

At a round about, Armstrong was involved in a crash, remounted his bike and was helped back to the peloton by four of his teammates at 4.8 km before the climb on the first category 1 climb the col de Ramaz.

It was the worst time to have a crash when the rest of the field were gathering speed to make it to the base of the climb. Armstrong’s teammates pedaled to get him back to the main field before the climb, but he was too far back when the positioning started for the climb.

After the stage Armstrong said he clipped pedals with another rider, his wheel rolled, and he came down hard as he was traveling about 65 kilometers per hou. He had bloody wounds on his arms and back.
The first crash where Armstrong rode onto the grass to avoid downed riders

The Sky Team pushed the pace and the group behind them started to pull apart. Thomas Voeckler was dropped, as well as Sergio Paulino of Radio Shack who had helped Armstrong back to the pack. Chavanel, the Yellow Jersey holder was also dropped at 24.8 miles to the finish.

Team Saxo Bank then came to the front and also started to push the pace, shredding more riders from the group.

Contador, Schleck, Basso, Wiggins, Sastre, and others separated themselves from the peloton, and Armstrong.  At the top of the col, that chase group was 2 minutes and 5 seconds behind the break, Armstrong was at 3 minutes and 15 seconds behind, and the yellow jersey, Sylvain Chavanel was 4 minutes and 45 seconds behind.

Now in the second chase group behind the leaders, and just before the Les Gets (pronounced "lay jay") summit, two Euskaltel-Euskadi riders were involved in a crash just ahead of Armstrong who had nowhere to go but into them.

He was detached from his bike which got stuck under another rider (see top photo): it was Armstrong's third accident of the stage. He stood there for a moment trying to collect his bike, put his hands on this hips in a gesture that seemed to say, "WTF, what else is going to happen next?" before getting back on this bike and pedaling away.

Tomorrow is a rest day, and it's anyone's guess how Armstrong will handle the rest of the Tour. He may try and gain back more time, or spend effort trying to assist his teammates like Levi Leipheimer. If anything, it's not over until the man goes home. As far as I'm concerned, anything can happen.

General Classification Standings at the End of Stage 8

1.EVANS Cadel121BMC RACING TEAM37h 57' 09"
2.SCHLECK Andy11TEAM SAXO BANK37h 57' 29"+ 00' 20"
3.CONTADOR Alberto1ASTANA37h 58' 10"+ 01' 01"
4.VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen101OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO37h 58' 12"+ 01' 03"
5.MENCHOV Denis191RABOBANK37h 58' 19"+ 01' 10"
6.HESJEDAL Ryder54GARMIN - TRANSITIONS37h 58' 20"+ 01' 11"
7.KREUZIGER Roman44LIQUIGAS-DOIMO37h 58' 54"+ 01' 45"
8.LEIPHEIMER Levi25TEAM RADIOSHACK37h 59' 23"+ 02' 14"
9.SANCHEZ Samuel181EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI37h 59' 24"+ 02' 15"
10.ROGERS Michael118TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA37h 59' 40"+ 02' 31"
11.GESINK Robert195RABOBANK37h 59' 46"+ 02' 37"
12.SASTRE Carlos91CERVELO TEST TEAM37h 59' 49"+ 02' 40"
13.BASSO Ivan41LIQUIGAS-DOIMO37h 59' 50"+ 02' 41"
14.WIGGINS Bradley31SKY PRO CYCLING37h 59' 54"+ 02' 45"
15.VINOKOUROV Alexandre9ASTANA38h 00' 14"+ 03' 05"
16.ROCHE Nicolas81AG2R LA MONDIALE38h 00' 20"+ 03' 11"

Stage Standings at the End of Stage 8 (Armstrong is 61st)

1.SCHLECK Andy11TEAM SAXO BANK4h 54' 11"
2.SANCHEZ Samuel181EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI4h 54' 11"+ 00' 00"
3.GESINK Robert195RABOBANK4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
4.KREUZIGER Roman44LIQUIGAS-DOIMO4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
5.CONTADOR Alberto1ASTANA4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
6.EVANS Cadel121BMC RACING TEAM4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
7.VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen101OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
8.LEIPHEIMER Levi25TEAM RADIOSHACK4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
9.BASSO Ivan41LIQUIGAS-DOIMO4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
10.MENCHOV Denis191RABOBANK4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
11.SASTRE Carlos91CERVELO TEST TEAM4h 54' 21"+ 00' 10"
12.ROGERS Michael118TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA4h 54' 31"+ 00' 20"
13.RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin77KATUSHA TEAM4h 54' 50"+ 00' 39"
14.HESJEDAL Ryder54GARMIN - TRANSITIONS4h 55' 25"+ 01' 14"
15.DE WEERT Kevin133QUICK STEP4h 55' 25"+ 01' 14"
16.KLÖDEN Andréas24TEAM RADIOSHACK4h 55' 25"+ 01' 14"

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