Lance Arm­strong, in­volved in three crashes dur­ing sun­day’s stage, falls more than 13 min­utes be­hind the leader, his quest for an eighth Tour de France vic­tory ef­fec­tively squashed.

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

MORZINE, France — It wasn’t sup­posed to end this way. It was sup­posed to end on a podium 275 miles to the north.

But with the Tour de France fin­ish line in Paris still two weeks away, Lance Arm­strong got pinched in a vice be­tween demo-derby traf­fic on nar­row Alpine roads and a re­lent­less field of young cy­cling stars. For Arm­strong, the great­est Tour cham­pion ever, the pur­suit of an eighth yel­low jersey is ef­fec­tively over.

While cy­cling’s next elite gen­er­a­tion eas­ily cruised to the fin­ish, Arm­strong fin­ished fad­ing, with a ripped jersey, bruised hip and bleed­ing knee. He lost 11 min-

See TOUR, C3

Con­tin­ued from C1 utes, 45 sec­onds — an un­heard of amount of time to fall back for him dur­ing his seven-year win­ning streak.

Three times dur­ing the stage, Arm­strong was di­rectly or in­di­rectly in­volved in crashes.

The first oc­curred about four miles in. The sec­ond, at a round­about, was the worst. Some lead­ers went left. Arm­strong went right. Too far right. His front wheel clipped a con­crete bar­rier, bend­ing at a 90de­gree an­gle.

“Then, the next thing I know,” Arm­strong said, “I was rolling along the ground, at 60 to 65 kph.

“It was bad luck,” Arm­strong said, be­fore paus­ing a few mo­ments. “At a bad time. There’s not much I can do.”

As he re­mounted af­ter the sec­ond crash, he told Johan Bruyneel, the Ra­dioShack team di­rec­tor, that he prob­a­bly no longer would be able to stay with the lead­ers, al­though he ini­tially tried.

But Sun­day there was no mercy from the lead­ers. As Arm­strong re­joined the group of con­tenders, rid­ers for Team Sky, then As­tana, ac­cel­er­ated the tempo in an ef­fort to drop the weak­est. Arm­strong could not keep up.

His third crash oc­curred about 12 miles from the fin­ish. He and team­mate Chris Horner were forced to stop when a Span­ish rider went down in front of them. Arm­strong wasn’t hurt.

Arm­strong left the cel­e­bra­tion for the youngest con­tender — Andy Sch­leck, a baby-faced 25-year-old from Lux­em­bourg, who was run­ner-up at last year’s Tour.

Sch­leck, in win­ning the first sig­nif­i­cant out­ing in the moun­tains, slipped past Spain’s Sammy Sanchez, a climb­ing spe­cial­ist, as the two ar­rived at the sum­mit fin­ish in Avo­riaz. Sch­leck at­tacked late in the stage, a surge de­fend­ing cham­pion Al­berto Con­ta­dor, the 27-year-old Spa­niard, couldn’t an­swer.

Aus­tralia’s Cadel Evans, who at 33 twice has fin­ished as a Tour run­ner-up, took over the race lead af­ter he was able to stay even with Con­ta­dor on the fi­nal climb.

Evans fin­ished the stage 20 sec­onds ahead of Sch­leck in the over­all yel­low-jersey stand­ings. Con­ta­dor fin­ished third at 1:01 back.

Arm­strong fin­ished in the most un­fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory of all: 39th and 13:26 be­hind the leader.

“My tour is fin­ished,” Arm­strong said, re­fer­ring to his run for the yel­low jersey, not whether he’ll com­plete the race.

With the three-week Tour en­joy­ing its first rest day to­day, Team Ra­dioShack will reeval­u­ate its strat­egy.

“It’s more like the end of our Tour de France,” said Bruyneel. “Ev­ery­thing that could go wrong, went wrong.”

The squad could redi­rect its ef­forts around Amer­i­can Levi Leipheimer, who was able to stick with Sch­leck, Evans and Con­ta­dor. Leipheimer, who fin­ished on the Tour podium in 2007, fin­ished Sun­day eighth over­all and 2:14 back.

Or, Ra­dioShack could opt to set up Arm­strong with a ca­reer au revoir stage win.

“To be hon­est, I’m a lit­tle sorry for him,” Sch­leck said of Arm­strong. “I still be­lieve he will win his stage.”

Dur­ing his seven-year win­ning streak, Arm­strong suf­fered only two mem­o­rable crashes. Both oc­curred in 2003. One was near the end of the open­ing stage, and he lost no time. The sec­ond was on a fi­nal climb in the Pyre­nees, when he won the stage end­ing in Luz Ar­di­den and clinched what was a record-ty­ing fifth yel­low jersey.

“No tears for me,” Arm­strong said late Sun­day. “I’ve had a lot of good years here.”

Per­haps he was think­ing of those mo­ments, when, af­ter stop­ping for a brief in­ter­view with French tele­vi­sion, he got back on his bike and rode alone to the team car.

As he did, Jani Bra­jkovic, the youngest mem­ber of Ra­dioShack and a likely heir, glided to­ward Arm­strong and draped a com­fort­ing arm over his shoul­der.

Lance Arm­strong re­acts af­ter fin­ish­ing the eighth stage Sun­day. He now ranks 39th, more than 13 min­utes be­hind over­all leader Cadel Evans.

Lau­rent Rebours

Andy Sch­leck of Lux­em­bourg crosses the fin­ish line to win the eighth stage of the Tour, in Morzine-Avo­riaz, France on Sun­day.

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