Arm­strong en­joy­ing view, hop­ing to win stage

Seven-time win­ner not ex­pect­ing any breaks

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Suzanne Hal­libur­ton

AX-3-DO­MAINES, France — As the elite rid­ers of the Tour de France hit the first big Pyre­nees swell of Sun­day’s Stage 14, Lance Arm­strong dropped back.

His legs didn’t feel good enough for an all-out ef­fort, he said, so for the fifth straight day, the sev­en­time Tour cham­pion took it rel­a­tively easy, al­low­ing the young­sters — Andy Sch­leck and Al­berto Con­ta­dor — to con­tinue their bat­tle in the high moun­tains.

“Once you’re not there and once you know you’re not go­ing to be the best, I’d pre­fer ... to sit up and en­joy it,” Arm­strong said Sun­day, af­ter he fin­ished 70th, more than 15 min­utes be­hind stage win­ner Christophe Ri­blon.

“It’s a unique ex­pe­ri­ence with

Andy Sch­leck of Lux­em­bourg, left, and Al­berto Con­ta­dor of Spain re­main 1-2 in the over­all stand­ings af­ter Sun­day’s stage.

Con­tin­ued from C1 no pres­sure at all,” said Arm­strong, who dropped to 38th over­all. “There’s noth­ing wrong with that. I’m go­ing out hav­ing a good time.”

Arm­strong will have a bet­ter time if dur­ing the fi­nal week of the Tour he can win a stage as the race’s lead­ers stay con­tent to bat­tle each other. Per­haps that elu­sive stage win will come to­day, as the Tour heads from nearby Pamiers to Bag­neres de Lu­chon, the old­est moun­tain re­sort in the Pyre­nees.

The 116-mile stage will have emo­tional sig­nif­i­cance to Arm­strong be­cause the route goes over the Col de Portet-d’Aspet. That would or­di­nar­ily be con­sid­ered a be­nign, cat­e­gory two climb. But 15 years ago Sun­day, Fabio Casartelli, Arm­strong’s dear friend and team­mate, died af­ter a hor­rific crash on the de­scent of the climb.

Casartelli, an Olympic gold medal­ist from Italy, died of head in­juries while be­ing flown to a lo­cal hos­pi­tal.

In 2001, Arm­strong went into yel­low at the Tour the day the race passed by the 8-foot tall sun­dial that was erected as a me­mo­rial to Casartelli. His eyes were misty as he crossed the fin­ish line and pointed sky­ward.

Arm­strong didn’t speak of Casartelli on Sun­day, other than to say he has only bad mem­o­ries of what hap­pened July 18, 1995, the last time a Tour rider died while rac­ing.

Ear­lier in the day, Johan Bruyneel, Arm­strong’s team di­rec­tor, said Arm­strong would con­tinue to con­serve his en­ergy for a po­ten­tial stage vic­tory.

“The main thing is … you don’t do that big ef­fort any­more,” Bruyneel said. “You’re not stressing about the fi­nal of the race and you save a lot of en­ergy. From (Sun­day) on, when­ever the op­por­tu­nity arises, he’s go­ing to try to win a stage.”

With the Tour end­ing this Sun­day in Paris, the top three spots still are very much up for grabs.

Con­ta­dor, the de­fend­ing cham­pion, still was try­ing to whit­tle time off of Sch­leck’s ten­u­ous 31-sec­ond lead. Spain’s Sammy Sanchez was third Sun­day at 2:31, only 13 sec­onds ahead of Rus­sia’s Den­nis Men­chov.

Levi Leipheimer, Arm­strong’s team­mate, dropped to sev­enth over­all af­ter he was un­able to stay with the lead group Sun­day. He’s 2:20 out of third, a big gap with only four sig­nif­i­cant chances at gain­ing time on his ri­vals.

Con­ta­dor, a Span­ish star, still be­lieves he has the ad­van­tage through­out the week, given his fa­mil­iar­ity of the Pyre­nees. Plus, he is one of the top time tri­al­ists in the Tour. So he’ll have Satur­day’s race against the clock in Bordeaux as an ex­tra chance at Sch­leck, who is known pri­mar­ily as a climber.

Con­ta­dor twice at­tacked Sch­leck on the fi­nal climb Sun­day, but couldn’t drop him.

“He did not drop me, so that brings me con­fi­dence,” Sch­leck said. “It’s just a guess, but I guess he’s not happy. I think I was a lit­tle bit bet­ter than he thought.”

The bat­tle at the top of the over­all could pre­clude Arm­strong from win­ning a stage. Con­ta­dor’s As­tana team­mates have tried to shake Sch­leck through­out the moun­tains, and in do­ing so, they’ve suc­cess­fully dropped Arm­strong each time.

“They’re not go­ing to let me go early on, so you have to have your climb­ing legs,” Arm­strong said. “And ob­vi­ously, no­body’s go­ing to give it away.

“Back in our hey­day, we never gave any­thing away. I don’t want them say­ing, ‘Let the old man have one.’ That’s not what this event is about. It’s a hard sport­ing event. The best guy is sup­posed to win on a daily ba­sis, on a three-week ba­sis.

“I’ll do my best,” he said, “but as you know, and ev­ery­body knows, we’re run­ning out of chances.”

Christophe Ri­blon

won the 14th stage, more than 15 min­utes ahead of Lance

Arm­strong.

Lionel Bon­aven­ture

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