Lance Armstrong’s worst day ever in a Tour de France saw his hopes of a podium finish, let alone overall victory, die on the steep roads of the French Alps in Stage 8. Armstrong lost more than 11 minutes to stage winner Andy Schleck and several other pre-race favorites, as Alberto Contador’s Astana team seized the first true mountain stage of this year’s Tour to blow the race apart.
World champion Cadel Evans of Team BMC ended the day in yellow. But it was Schleck who stamped his authority on the Tour by attacking near the finish out of an elite group of contenders to win the stage and move up to second overall, with Contador third in what may very well become a three-way battle for the Tour.
Evans and Contador finished 10 seconds down on Schleck, in a contenders’ group that also contained Armstrong’s RadioShack teammate Levi Leipheimer, Denis Menchov, and Ivan Basso. At the end of the day, Schleck sat 20 seconds behind Evans in the overall, with Contador third at 1:10, Menchov fourth at 1:10, and Leipheimer, who will likely take over leadership of RadioShack, eighth at 2:14. (Full results here.)
Those who thought this might be a Tour too far for Armstrong were proven right today. Though some of his time loss was due to the fact that he got caught up behind three separate crashes, he won’t be able to blame luck. The Texan faded quickly and spectacularly on the first big climb of the day, the Category 1 Col de la Ramaz, and showed that he simply didn’t have the legs to stay with the leaders this year.
By the final climb he didn’t even appear to be trying to limit his losses, as he slowly pedaled up the slopes while the race went on ahead of him. He rolled across the summit finish in the town of Morzine 11:45 behind Schleck and dropped to 29th overall, 13:26 behind Evans. Tomorrow will likely be the longest rest day of his career.
I would love to write more about what this all means, for both the Tour and Armstrong, but I’m about to board a flight to France. I’ll be filing reports for the remainder of the Tour much closer to the action.