Armstrong Clears Path to Sixth Tour Title

AP – 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 — 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.”

Truly remarkable.

FILED UNDER: Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. BigFire says:

    One huge disappointment his year is the utter failure of a performance by the Basque Mountain specialist Iban Mayo whose fans came out in force to see him mentally and physically quit. The Pyrenean climb were supposed to be his backyard. Instead, he finished 115 out of 170, 36 minutes back.

  2. R Gardner says:

    Indeed remarkable. As an ex-amateur racer (CAT 4)I am always amazed by the performance of the pros. I remember ~15 years ago the outcry when Sports Illustrated named Greg LeMond the Stortman of the Year after his tour victory. Bubba say “I can ride a bike, what is so special about it?” The same guy that drives a car, but can’t drive NASCAR. The fact is most of the racers die in thier 50s due to the abuse done to their bodies (OK, the statistic is obviously from the riders from the 50s and 60s).

    However, LeMond has done a couple of interviews in the last couple of days saying he would not be suprised if Armstrong had used EPO, and that Armstrong had stated to him a few (3) years ago that everyone was doing it. Likewise he stated (on ESPN today) that Armstrong’s business manager had threatened Lemond’s bike business if he said anything negative about Armstrong.

    Personally, I was rooting for Tyler Hamilton. But landing on another’s pedal in the crash did cause him back problems.