Lance Armstrong proved today, without a doubt, that he not only still deserves to ride in the Tour, but at the head of the peloton as well.
Lance had a rough day two days ago during Stage 15, when his teammate and main rival, Alberto Contador, accelerated out of the peloton leaving everyone, including Armstrong behind. It was at the finish of the stage that Armstrong declared Contador the best rider in the race and said he’d be riding for him the rest of the race. It was at the finish that Lance graded his performance a “B-” and said he wasn’t the best rider in the race.
Today, after a rest day yesterday, Contador and three other riders broke from the peloton, leaving Armstrong behind once more. Contador was not on the attack this time, but was instead chasing down and defending an attack by the German Schleck brothers. The four riders accelerated out of the peloton, again separating the best from the rest. It, at first, looked like Armstrong was no longer the rider the Tour had once known. After the four break away riders distanced themselves, the peloton and Armstrong settled into an easier pace and rhythm, and then Armstrong exploded from the pack of riders. Easily breaking away gaining on the four in front of him. After securing a safe break for his team leader, and settling the peloton into a slower climb, the seven time Tour winner surprised everyone on the roads. He caught the four other riders, taking the Schleck brothers by total surprise. And he bridged the gap, riding alone, without drafting behind anyone, like the four riders he was riding down.
For those who don’t know, stage races in biking – especially the Tour de France – is a team event. Armstrong and Contador’s team, Astana, is without a doubt an All Star team of some of cycling’s greatest riders. Up until Sunday’s race the verdict was still out as to who was leading team Astana and who would they be pushing to stand atop the podium at the end of the race. On Sunday Armstrong declared Contador that rider. Most teams have a single team leader who all other riders ride for, set the pace, and allow the leader to draft on their back wheel until the end of stages when they then can explode and surge to the finish. In the past rider’s like George Hincapie – the only team member of Armstorng for all seven Tour titles – have done this for Armstrong.
After Armstrong’s performance today, and a tough week left to ride, I wouldn’t count him out of the race just yet. First off, anything can happen. A flat tire, or worse, a crash and Alberto could be riding for Lance. With another tough climb tomorrow, the field may shift some. With individual time trials on Thursday, Armstrong – a better time trialer than Contador – could bridge the gap.
What I do know, after 16 stages of riding, the 37 year old Texan – even after 3 years of retirement – has proven he’s still one of the best riders riding today, and certainly the greatest athlete of our time.