Calm day for teammates Armstrong, Contador on Tour
July 16, 2009
SAINT-FARGEAU, France – The truce between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador continued at the Tour de France, with the two teammates and main contenders enjoying a peaceful ride on a day marred by several crashes.
The seven-time champion Armstrong, back to competition on the grueling three-week race four years after his last victory in Paris, spent Wednesday’s 11th stage sheltered in the peloton and finished in the 54th position to retain third place overall.
The 37-year-old Texan didn’t stop for reporters waiting at his Astana team bus after the 119.3-mile stage from Vatan to Saint-Fargeau, won by British sprinter Mark Cavendish – his second consecutive stage win and fourth so far.
“Fast start, crashes a plenty, then a breakaway. Ending up being pretty relaxed,” Armstrong commented afterward on his Twitter feed.
The general classification stayed the same, with race leader Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy leading Contador by six seconds. Armstrong is eight seconds back.
After several days of tension, Armstrong and Contador put their rivalry aside until the end of the flat stages. Their fierce battle is unlikely to restart before Sunday’s first Alpine stage, which features a hilltop finish suitable for attacks.
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“It was a transition day,” the 26-year old Contador said. “Boring for TV viewers even if there was some tension at the beginning. A lot of riders fell but we managed to avoid crashes.”
A total of 19 riders – including Nocentini – were slightly injured in crashes but they were all able to finish the stage.
“I was in a fall, but nothing too serious. I didn’t hurt myself,” Nocentini said. “I managed to get back up and finish calmly.”
Contador witnessed two crashes just in front of him but stopped his bike just in time.
Thursday’s 12th stage is a 131.4-mile trek from Tonnerre to Vittel featuring six small hills and could again favor sprinters like Cavendish. Contador, who crossed the line in the 43rd position, said he will stay focused to avoid a crash even if his mind is already focused on the mountain stages – where the Spaniard typically excels.
“After tomorrow’s stage I will think about the mountains and I can’t wait to be there,” the 2007 Tour winner said.
In the last leg of the stage, Cavendish held off a strong challenge by Tyler Farrar, who almost became the first American rider to win an individual stage at this year’s race.
Farrar was within half a bike length of catching Cavendish, who matched British rider Barry Hoban’s total of eight Tour stage wins and took the best sprinter’s green jersey from Thor Hushovd’s shoulders.
“It’s frustrating to come second, but at the same time you can see there are only a few guys going that fast right now,” Farrar said. “Today was great. It was really fast from (the last) 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) to 500 meters (from the line).”
The 25-year-old Farrar, a U.S. junior national champion in 2002, upset Cavendish earlier in the season to win the third stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico race in Italy in March.
“I think (Tyler) is the best sprinter of his generation – apart from Cavendish,” Jonathan Vaughters, the manager of Farrar’s Garmin-Slipstream team, told The Associated Press by telephone.
But on Wednesday, Farrar timed his attack a fraction too late. It was his third top-3 finish of the Tour.
“Maybe he’s not quite as fast, and he needs to figure out how to be a little bit more intelligent,” Vaughters added. “And we need to figure out how to be a little bit better as a team.”
– AP sportswriter Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.