Armstrong enjoying view, hoping to win stage
Seven-time winner not expecting any breaks
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.”
won the 14th stage, more than 15 minutes ahead of Lance