Armstrong Clears Path to Sixth Tour Title
Start icing the champagne. Lance Armstrong cleared his path to a record sixth straight Tour de France crown, overpowering rivals to win the 13th stage Saturday. His two-day display of dominant mountain riding has all but decided cycling’s showcase event even before it veers into the Alps next week. Only Italian Ivan Basso managed to stay with the five-time champion on the devastating ascent to the Plateau de Beille, the last of seven climbs on a sun-baked, 127.7-mile trek through the Pyrenees. As Armstrong and Basso rode through cheering crowds along the steep, snaking road, other riders scattered down the mountain, their hopes of dethroning the 32-year-old Texan evaporating with the sweat off their brows.
Jan Ullrich, considered Armstrong’s toughest rival, conceded defeat after the steep 9.9-mile climb mined with hairpin turns. “I have rarely pushed myself so hard,” said Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champ and five-time runner-up. “But after seven mountains and more than 200 kilometers under conditions that should really be ideal for me, I must admit: Lance appears to be unbeatable this year.” Ullrich has finished second to Armstrong three times.
Two weeks into the three-week marathon, only a collapse by Armstrong, an accident or a huge surprise from the few riders still with an outside chance, appear to stand in the way of a victory in Paris on July 25. As in previous years, when he launched his victory march to Paris in the mountains, Armstrong said the race wasn’t over yet and insisted that, at his age, he is no longer at the height of his powers. “As I always say, the Tour finishes in Paris,” he said. “There are still the Alps and many dangerous stages. “My best years were 2000 and 2001,” he added, leaving out his dominant wins in 1999 and 2002 and his narrow victory last year. “The time of being the boss of the Tour de France is over. Before the Tour this year I was insecure. But I think that’s what all great champions are. They’re worried about their place, worried about losing their place on top, and that’s what keeps them there.”
Armstrong, who had set out Saturday with the aim of taking back the yellow jersey he so covets, was impressed. He said his team kept telling him through his radio that Voeckler was being left far behind Ã¢€” only to reverse course and say he was still hanging in. “It’s incredible,” Armstrong said. “This guy has real panache. He deserves to have that jersey for another day or however long until he loses it.”