Belfast Telegraph

Tour de France: Bitter end for Lance Armstrong

Whatever else happens in this year's Tour, yesterday's stage and the entire race will be marked by one single, huge factor — the end of the Lance Armstrong era in the most spectacular style possible.

Even Bradley Wiggins' rough ride, losing nearly two minutes on the first Alpine stage of the 2010 Tour on winner Andy Schleck and new race leader Cadel Evans, was overshadowed by Armstrong's worst day in the race in over a decade.

“My Tour's finished,” Armstrong told reporters just metres after crossing the line a staggering 11 minutes and 45 seconds down, “I had a bad day and then it got even worse.”

Londoner Bradley Wiggins remains in contention, although he was understandably disappointed with a below-expectations performance.

“I felt good until the last climb, but I just couldn't hold on a the end there,” Wiggins said. “I'm happy to admit I wasn't quite good enough, but there's still a lot of the race left so we'll see what happens.”

But while Wiggins was able to remain upbeat, for Armstrong there are no such causes for optimism. First for seven years run

ning, third in Paris even after his comeback at age 37 — which he may well now be regretting — Armstrong's dramatic sporting collapse began overnight with complaints of a saddle sore. But, if he started the stage on the back foot, there was another bad omen for the Texan when he fell in a pile-up of around a dozen riders after just eight kilometres, suffering minor injuries.

The RadioShack leader's luck then took a definitive downturn when he crashed a second time at high speed, midway through the stage.

Skidding into another rider at 50km/h, the American went flying, injuring his back and his saddle being ripped out of his bike.

He was able to continue, his race number in shreds and blood seeping through a big rip on his jersey. But the crash could hardly have come at a worse moment, with the first major climb of the day starting. After five kilometres, the American was in big trouble. Weaving from one side of the road to another, with three dozen riders still in the main pack, Armstrong was already out of the back well before the real battle for supremacy had begun.

Although three RadioShack riders remained with him, with his face grey and drawn and each pedal stroke looking painful, there was little support they could give the American.

On French television, reports from commentators following the American on motorbikes came thick and fast: “Armstrong dropped by [Thomas] Voeckler, Armstrong dropped by Mathew Lloyd” — riders the previously all-conquering American would barely have noticed in the past had they been shed from the bunch.

Armstrong was adamant afterwards that he would not be quitting but he is no longer a factor in the battle for yellow. Even reaching Paris, now, will be a major achievement for the American, forced, for the first time since 1999, to admit that cycling has moved on without him.

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