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Armstrong of old bowing out gracefully

Lance Armstrong was today reflecting on a remarkable Tour de France career which will end in Paris on Sunday.

The riders were today enjoying the final rest day of this year's Tour ahead of tomorrow's 174km 17th stage from Pau to Col du Tourmalet and the duel between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, while discussions will continue about Armstrong's bid to finish his Tour career with a flourish.

Armstrong (Team RadioShack) fell short of winning his 26th Tour stage yesterday as Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bougyues Telecom) won a sprint finish between eight breakaway riders to claim victory on the 199.5km 16th stage from the Pyrenean town of Bagneres-de-Luchon to Pau.

The 38-year-old, who is racing in his 13th and final Tour, rolled back the years and was again the main protagonist on a major mountain stage. But it was not enough.

"It was full gas all day," he said. "I focused on the stage, tried to get up in the moves and it didn't work -- I wasn't fast enough in the end. Fedrigo's very fast and he deserved to win."

With Armstrong now all but in the past, focus will return to the present and Contador and Schleck's battle for the yellow jersey.

Contador (Astana), the two-time winner, is currently in possession of the maillot jaune with an eight-second lead over Schleck, who lost the prize in controversial circumstances when his chain slipped on Monday.

Schleck was furious with Contador for exploiting his predicament, but the Luxembourger is now focused on taking revenge in the mountains tomorrow. "Whoever gets to the top of the Tourmalet first on Thursday will win the Tour," Schleck said.

Ireland's Nicolas Roche, who finished 13th and still annoyed about Sunday's puncture debacle, is frustrated with 18th place overall.

"It's been a very demanding Tour, and there are riders all over the place. I've had enough. It's been three weeks of suffering, tiredness and stress. I just want to get to Paris and would prefer to race tomorrow and get there a day earlier," he said.