Arm­strong ad­justs to new sup­port­ing role

Still-ail­ing Aus­ti­nite helps as team­mate Leipheimer takes on podium pur­suit

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Suzanne Hal­libur­ton

SAINT-JEAN-DE-MAU­RI­ENNE, France — Seven-time cham­pion Lance Arm­strong eased into his new role as su­per­star do­mes­tique Tues­day as the Tour de France fin­ished its jour­ney through the Alps.

Arm­strong’s day-old as­sign­ment, which con­tin­ues to­day in a tran­si­tional stage out of the moun­tains, is to ride in sup­port of Ra­dioShack team­mate Levi Leipheimer, who is now in a com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion to make the fi­nal podium in Paris.

In this new role, Arm­strong, who still was ail­ing phys­i­cally from three crashes on Sun­day, stuck to the wheels of Italy’s Ivan Basso and Bel­gian Jur­gen Van den Broeck, while Leipheimer bat­tled with other podium con­tenders about 30 sec­onds ahead on the course.

“We’re try­ing to get Levi to the podium,” Arm­strong said af­ter his 18th-place fin­ish Tues­day. “I was there with two guys who are threats to him, Basso

and Van den Broeck. There wasn’t much I could do other than sit there, but I wasn’t ex­actly ready to jump away ei­ther.”

Leipheimer moved up two spots on Tues­day, and was to start to­day in sixth place — 3 min­utes, 59 sec­onds out of first. Arm­strong fin­ished Tues­day’s stage in 31st place over­all and 15:54 back.

Arm­strong, af­ter the Tour’s rest day on Mon­day, had his role re­versed from team leader to key lieu­tenant. But be­cause he has the cache of a sev­en­time Tour cham­pion, team di­rec­tor Johan Bruyneel will al­low Arm­strong to go for a stage vic­tory in the Pyre­nees as he says good­bye to a race he once dom­i­nated.

“We’ll see,” Arm­strong said of a stage vic­tory. “I’ve got to look for an op­por­tu­nity. If I keep pro­gress­ing and get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter, I’ll be there.”

Arm­strong and Leipheimer were a long way from the Tour’s two elite rid­ers: Lux­em­bourg’s Andy Sch­leck and Spain’s Al­berto Con­ta­dor. If any­thing, Tues­day’s stage nine from Morzine-Avo­riaz to Saint-Jean-de-Mau­ri­enne made it clear that, bar­ring a cat­a­strophic in­jury, this year’s Tour cham­pion will be ei­ther Sch­leck, the 2009 run­ner-up, or Al­berto Con­ta­dor, last year’s win­ner.

Sch­leck, thanks to his sev­enth-place fin­ish be­hind stage win­ner Sandy Casar, will wear yel­low to­day as the Tour winds to­ward Gap, the vil­lage that di­vides the north­ern and south­ern Alps. Chances are, a French rider will win to­day. It’s a tra­di­tion on Bastille Day, when the home coun­try’s rid­ers try to show off on the biggest hol­i­day of the year.

Af­ter Tues­day, Sch­leck owned a 41-sec­ond lead over Con­ta­dor, who both moved up a spot in the rank­ings af­ter Mon­day’s rest day.

“I think he and I are a lit­tle above the oth­ers,” Sch­leck said of Con­ta­dor. “I didn’t put time on Con­ta­dor, but he couldn’t drop me ei­ther.”

Sch­leck and Con­ta­dor du­eled over the Col de la Madeleine, the first be­yond-cat­e­gory climb on the Tour’s three-week itin­er­ary. Sch­leck was the ag­gres­sor, know­ing he needed to build as much time as pos­si­ble on Con­ta­dor in the moun­tains to off­set the Spa­niard’s time­tri­al­ing abil­ity.

Their in­tense pace shred­ded the lead group of con­tenders. Leipheimer stayed near Rus­sia’s Den­nis Men­chov, while Arm­strong kept up with Basso, the win­ner of the Giro d’Italia.

“I tried to stick with Con­ta­dor and Sch­leck a lit­tle too long,” Leipheimer said. “Luck­ily I found a good group to ride with. I feel bet­ter, ab­so­lutely.”

Third place on the fi­nal podium, which Leipheimer is hop­ing to earn, still was up for grabs with more than half the race yet to come. Spain’s Sammy Sanchez was third af­ter Tues­day, 2:45 be­hind Scheck.

In­juries con­tinue to plague this Tour.

Aus­tralia’s Cadel Evans, who had been the race leader, strug­gled might­ily as soon as he ar­rived at the base of the Madeleine. He lost 8:09 over the fi­nal 20 miles of the course.

When the stage was over, Team BMC re­vealed that Evans, its top rider, was rac­ing with a bro­ken el­bow. He suf­fered the frac­ture early in Sun­day’s stage, in a crash that also brought down Arm­strong. But Evans was able to con­trol the pain and take the top spot, how­ever tem­po­rar­ily, on the podium.

Evans was ashen-faced as he fin­ished the stage and ma­neu­vered through the crowd to his team bus. The two-time Tour run­ner-up dropped from first to 18th and out of yel­low-jersey con­tention. His own team hadn’t been told he’d been hurt.

Arm­strong looked to be feel­ing bet­ter than he did Sun­day, when he skid­ded on his back af­ter crash­ing at nearly 40 mph.

He spent Mon­day’s rest day rid­ing a nearby be­yond-cat­e­gory climb to chase away the pain.

“I feel bet­ter,” he said, “so I guess the rest day was good.”

Christophe Ena AS­So­CI­ATEd pRESS

Thor Hushovd of Nor­way (wear­ing the best sprinter’s green jersey), Cadel Evans of Aus­tralia (wear­ing the over­all leader’s yel­low jersey) and Lance Arm­strong talk prior to the start of the ninth stage on Tues­day in Morzine-Avo­riaz.

Tour notes, re­sults from Stage 9, pre­view of to­day’s 111-mile Bastille Day stage, C4

Baz Czerwinski

Lance Arm­strong, cen­ter, speeds down the Colom­biere pass dur­ing the ninth stage. At left is David de la Fuente of the As­tana team, and just be­hind Arm­strong is As­tana’s lead rider, Al­berto Con­ta­dor of Spain, who is sec­ond in the Tour’s over­all stand­ings.

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