Armstrong just misses yellow jersey in stage 4 of Tour de France
July 7, 2009 —
Lance Armstrong came within a whisper of recapturing the yellow jersey that he walked away from in retirement in 2005 in a thrilling showdown Tuesday at the Tour de France.
With his Astana team winning the prestigious team time trial in the Tour’s fourth stage in dominant fashion on a hilly 39km course in Montpellier, it looked like the seven-time Tour champ would storm back into the maillot jaune as well.
Astana clearly won the stage, 19 seconds clear of second-place Garmin-Slipstream, but by the time the dust settled and the time-keepers double-checked their math, Armstrong missed taking cycling’s most treasured tunic by the narrowest of margins.
Some 0.22 seconds, to be exact, and overnight leader Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) kept the lead based on a tie-breaker measured by fractions of seconds taken at the Monaco time trial.
“That’s just the way it is,” Armstrong waxed philosophical. “We did everything we could as a team and we won the race, so I cannot be disappointed about that.”
The fact that Armstrong is even back at the Tour, let alone within a shot of the yellow jersey, is hard to believe.
Armstrong walked away from the Tour in 2005 after winning a record seven-consecutive crowns and, as he said, “didn’t pay much attention” to cycling until deciding to come back for 2009.
When asked if he thought he’d be here, Armstrong was candid.
“Twelve months ago, yes, I thought it be easier. Six month ago I realized – damn – this is going to be harder than I thought,” Armstrong said. “Today I’m realistic. I have both feet on the ground. It’s not going to be so easy to win like it was back in 2002, 2003 or before.”
Although he didn’t take yellow, Armstrong has positioned himself perfectly as the Tour approaches the Tour’s first of three mountaintop finishes up Arcalis on Friday.
Tied with Cancellara, he’s 19 seconds ahead of teammate Alberto Contador and two other Astana riders. The first legitimate rival that isn’t a teammate or a worker is American Christian Vande Velde, now 12th at 1:16 back.
Pre-race favorites Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov are all nearly three minutes off the back.
Wednesday’s fifth stage rolls down the Med coast into Perpignan, where the sprinters are expected to rule the roost.
Armstrong and Co. will likely cool their jets until Friday’s summit finish, but the way this Tour is going, expect the unexpected.
Former Vail Daily editor Andrew Hood now lives in Spain and covers cycling. His reports on the 96th Tour de France will appear daily on RealVail.com. Also follow him on twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.
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