Tour de France Update: Fatal Flaws

Text by Christian Camerota

A spectator’s death, a leaderboard shuffle, and dimming hopes for Lance Armstrong’s run at an eighth title marked what was an eventful weekend on the the Tour.  

Jeanette Stoeffel, 61, was killed Saturday crossing the road when
she was struck by a police motorcycle that then careened into the crowd
and seriously injured two other spectators.  Stoeffel’s death was the
Tour’s first since a seven-year-old boy died after being hit by a
publicity vehicle in 2002.

Team Astana also suffered a serious
loss as teammate Levi Leipheimer pulled out of the race with a broken wrist
he sustained in a crash two miles from Thursday’s finish line.  His
absence is expected to seriously impede Armstrong’s chances at victory–the two were close friends and allies among a team rumored to be rife
with tension because of the rivalry between Armstrong and team captain
Alberto Contador.

It was Contador who emerged from the
weekend scrum with a substantial lead, using his strong climbing skills
to claim the yellow jersey for the first time since his 2007 Tour win.
 Despite a challenge from the Saxo Bank team, Contador pulled away
from the lead riders and used the majority of the 5.5-mile ascent into
Verbier, Switzerland to distance himself from the competition.  He
finished Sunday’s 16th stage 40 seconds ahead of the nearest rider and
vaulted himself to a 1’37” lead over Armstrong, who finished ninth
and propelled himself back into second place.

With his commanding performance yesterday, Contador secured the team’s
leadership role that he argued was his all along.  “Lance Armstrong was
my idol, but dropping him today wasn’t important-he was just like any
other rider.”  Contador said.  “The differences now are pretty big, and
the team’s bet should now be me, no?”

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Even Armstrong was willing to admit that Contador’s alpine burst
likely spelled the end for his own shot at the yellow jersey, conceding
that “a day like [Sunday] really shows who’s the best, and I wasn’t on
par with what is required to win the Tour.”
 Armstrong later said he would not go against the interests of the
team by attacking Contador later in the race, adding that if they “ride
into Paris with the yellow jersey on the team, I’m cool with that.”
 For good measure, Armstrong was also careful to point out: “I
got seven of ’em at home.”

Today is an off day and will be followed by two difficult Alpine
stages and an individual time trial before perhaps the toughest climb
in cycling, Saturday’s Mont Ventoux ascent.  

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