Punc­tured tire costs Arm­strong pre­cious time and drops him to 18th place, be­hind ri­vals

Aus­ti­nite can’t catch a break on cob­ble­stones as bad tire pushes him back in pack to 18th

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Suzanne Hal­libur­ton

AREN­BERG, France — Thor­oughly rat­tled from a cob­ble­stoneladen stage Tues­day, a re­duced and re­aligned field of cy­clists strikes out across cham­pagne coun­try to­day to be­gin the long clock­wise tour of France.

To the rid­ers, who have faced long dis­tances, rain and wind, bone-jar­ring road­ways and mul­ti­ple crashes, to­day’s flat, 95.4-mile route from Cam­brai south­east to Reims prom­ises to be a quick blowout.

That’s what Lance Arm­strong had Tues­day — a punc­tured tire, and al­though he was able to get it changed in 45 sec­onds, the de­lay cost him a spot among the best­placed rid­ers to fin­ish on the fi­nal podium.

“Some days you’re the ham­mer,” said Arm­strong, the seven- time Tour cham­pion who is now in 18th place. “Some days you’re the nail. To­day I was the nail.”

Arm­strong lost 2 min­utes, 8 sec­onds on the 131-mile stage that crossed from Bel­gium into north­ern France. Top rid­ers nav­i­gated the rough pave­ment, then pushed the tempo to ex­tra­or­di­nary speeds.

Nor­way’s Thor Hushovd, who is aim­ing for the sprinter’s green jersey, won the drain­ing, dusty day with a time of 4 hours, 49.38 sec­onds. Five other rid­ers, in­clud­ing ace climber Andy Sch­leck, re­ceived the same time as Hushovd.

De­fend­ing Tour cham­pion Al­berto Con­ta­dor was 1:13 in back

of the win­ning group. Like Arm­strong, he also suf­fered a flat tire, but it hap­pened over the last sec­tion of cob­bles and close enough to the fin­ish that he min­i­mized losses.

While Con­ta­dor dropped 1:13 to Sch­leck, he added an ad­van­tage of 55 sec­onds over Arm­strong. Com­ing into Tues­day’s stage, the con­ven­tional think­ing was that the more stur­dily built Arm­strong would be able to use the cob­ble­stones to build a lead over Sch­leck and Con­ta­dor, who are known most for their ex­plo­sive­ness in the moun­tains.

“No­body be­lieves that I can go fast on the cob­bles,” Sch­leck said. “But I think I’m pretty good on them. We trained on them.”

Switzer­land’s Fabian Can­cel­lara re­gained the yel­low jersey from Syl­vain Chavanel. The French rider, who spent only a day in cy­cling’s fa­vorite color, had the mis­for­tune of two flat tires caused by the cob­bles.

He had owned a lead of more than three min­utes. Yet he dropped nearly four min­utes on the dusty roads lead­ing to Aren­berg, in north­ern France.

For the third straight day, crashes cre­ated havoc. Eight of the 198 rid­ers have been forced out of the race since it started Satur­day. More could miss to­day’s start, con­sid­er­ing 19 rid­ers were treated by race doc­tors Tues­day af­ter­noon.

The biggest rider to fall was Frank Sch­leck, Andy’s older brother and team­mate who fin­ished fifth in last year’s Tour. The elder Sch­leck broke his col­lar­bone on a fall on the fourth stretch of cob­ble­stones, af­ter the pelo­ton crossed the Bel­gian border into France.

Andy Sch­leck won’t feel his brother’s loss in to­day’s stage, which is set up to be dry, flat and drama free. But the elder Sch­leck was set to be Andy’s top moun­tain lieu­tenant. The higher climbs start Satur­day.

Frank Sch­leck’s crash of­fered an im­me­di­ate dilemma to the Saxo team, which along with Arm­strong’s Ra­dioShack, is con­sid­ered the strong­est squad in the pelo­ton.

Dur­ing the rain of Mon­day’s Stage 2, Can­cel­lara was wear­ing the yel­low jersey, yet slowed his pace when he heard Andy Sch­leck had fallen and blood­ied two el­bows.

Can­cel­lara in­creased his speed when Frank Sch­leck fell Tues­day.

“I have mixed feel­ings,” Can­cel­lara said. “It was a great day for Saxo Bank, but we lost Frank. When we heard that he’d crashed, I told Andy not to look back and to go for it.”

Andy Sch­leck stayed on the wheel of Can­cel­lara, who has been the best rider on the cob­bles this cy­cling sea­son.

Arm­strong had al­most caught up to Can­cel­lara and Sch­leck when his tire punc­tured.

Team­mate Gre­gory Rast stopped and al­lowed Arm­strong the use of his wheel. With the high tempo, there was no time to wait for a team car with a re­place­ment tire.

Arm­strong spent 45 sec­onds off his bike. Team­mate Yaroslav Popovych helped pace Arm­strong for as long as pos­si­ble, then the Ra­dioShack team leader zoomed for­ward to try and catch the con­tenders.

“I was stuck be­hind the (team) cars, eat­ing dust and dodg­ing peo­ple,” Arm­strong said. “I’ve got no com­plaints. Bad luck was with me to­day.

“My chances (on yel­low) took a knock to­day,” he said. “But I’m not go­ing home.”

fred Mons AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lance Arm­strong rides in a cloud of dust on a cob­ble­stone sec­tion dur­ing the third stage of the Tour de France. ‘Some days you’re the ham­mer,’ said Arm­strong, who lost ground in the stand­ings. ‘To­day I was the nail.’

Lau­rent rebours AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sprint spe­cial­ist Thor Hushovd of Nor­way crosses the fin­ish line to win the third stage Tues­day.

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