Cycling: Armstrong going down with all guns blazing
Lance Armstrong may not have won Stage 16 yesterday, but he did lead a gutsy all-day break across four of the most famous peaks in Tour history in a personal homage to a race that has defined his life.
It was not quite Custer's last stand, but the Texan went down with all guns blazing -- and it was great to watch.
Armstrong's winning days really ended five years ago when he retired for the first time and the 38-year-old did not have the legs to challenge in the sprint, which was won by France's Pierrick Fedrigo. But his sixth place was an emotional effort with a large crowd -- putting aside any reservations past or present -- cheering him on his way. He has been humbled by the Tour on occasions this year, but Armstrong will depart it on Sunday with his head held high.
"Lance Armstrong is over in four or five days. It was a planned attack and it was full gas all day," he breathlessly confirmed afterwards.
"Starting on the Peyresourde was going to be very difficult and I knew that a group was going to go away. I'm not the best guy in the race, but I still have the spirit of a fighter."
Ever since he cracked on the first Sunday in the Morzine stage it was likely that Armstrong would preserve his resources and attempt a coup in the Pyrenees and yesterday's magnificent stage was always the most likely candidate. A 38-mile downhill run-off from the final climb meant that no general classification contender was likely to get away, while the route itself was designed to replicate as closely as possible a legendary ride in 1969 by Eddy Merckx, something of which Armstrong was acutely aware.
Elsewhere the yellow jersey battle had one of those curious days when 199.5km of apparent movement should not be confused with action.
Alberto Contador, having apologised overnight for his ungentlemanly conduct on Monday's stage -- when he took advantage of Schleck's mechanical problems on the final climb -- rode alongside his great rival deep in the peloton from start to finish.
Gradually the mood thawed and they chatted, while after the race they embraced warmly.
"We talked today and we are good now, the argument is over," insisted Schleck. "Whoever tops the Tourmalet first will win the Tour." (© Daily Telegraph, London)