Lance Armstrong admitted that being involved in two breakaways that effectively lasted the whole of today’s Stage 16 of the Tour de France meant he had nothing left for the sprint as the nine escapees arrived in Pau, with the stage win instead going to Pierrick Fedrigo of Bbox Bouygues Telecom.
The Team RadioShack rider had launched that attack at the foot of the Tourmalet, negotiated a third of the way through the 199.5km stage, just minutes after the group containing the riders at the top of the general classification had swept up an earlier breakaway in which the 38-year-old had also figured.
“It was a tough day. I paid at the end,” the seven-time overall winner, riding his last edition of the race, told the Team RadioShack website afterwards.“I warmed up a little bit before the race and then went at kilometre zero,” he continued, referring the point where the race director drops the white flag to signal the end of the neutralised section and the start of the racing in earnest.
Armstrong admitted that “200ks in the front took it out of me, I had no sprint at the end but I tried,” and revealed that he had specifically targeted today’s stage, saying, “I had this day kind of dog-eared in the book but it was harder than I expected.”
The Texan added: “I felt better as the race went on and toward the middle climbs but it was a tough one. I think it was a tough day for the whole peloton.”
One of Armstrong’s fellow escapees was fellow RadioShack rider Chris Horner, and with Caisse d’Epargne the only outfit represented by more than one cyclist, the presence of a team mate could perhaps have given Armstrong an advantage as the riders approached the line, but it wasn’t to be.
“It’s been a while since I sprinted,” confessed Armstrong. “We knew Fedrigo was the fastest and then [Damiano] Cunego so I tried to catch his wheel but just not quick enough,” adding “We did what we wanted to do. We tried to win the stage and we maintained the Team GC. Chris Horner had an amazing race.”
Armstrong was at pains to point out that despite the focus on his age, he wasn’t in fact the oldest escapee today – that honour fell to the 39-year-old Christophe Moreau of Caisse d’Epargne, who was the first rider over the Tourmalet and the Aubisque as he chased points in the King of the Mountains competition.
Moreau, a one-time wearer of the maillot jaune, has now moved into second place in the mountains classification behind Anthony Charteau of Bbox Bouygues Telecom, and having announced last week that he will retire at the end of this season, he clearly has his sights set on ending his career on a high with the polka dot jersey.
By gaining 60 points today, Moreau moves to within 15 points of Charteau, setting up what could be an epic battle between the pair on the way up to Thursday’s stage finish on the Tourmalet, the last categorised climb of this year’s race.
Moreau said that his performance today was in part motivated by one former Tour de France winner who, in his role as pundit for France Télévisions, has poked fun at his tactic throughout this year’s race of sprinting ahead to take mountains classification points whenever they are on offer.
“[Laurent] Fignon has denounced me enough for my 'climber's sprints,' and it was partly to show him that I know what I’m doing, that I’m not completely mad as he’d like people to believe. On Thursday, if I can look for points, I’m going to go after them. I’ve nothing to lose, everything to gain,” he added, his comments reported by L'Equipe.
The Caisse d’Epargne rider continued: “On top of the cols I’m a bit of a buccaneer, it’s experience. What do I have to lose, by fighting tooth and nail? That’s how I’d like people to see me for the last time on the Tour. It’s good to leave the Tour like that, being on the attack, leading over the legendary great cols.” Moreau, who did just that today, concluded, “I really enjoyed it.”
Charteau, who himself claimed 28 points today on the stage’s first two categorised climbs, the Col de Peyresourde and Col d'Aspin, claimed that he was happy with his day’s work and that he now had just one rival for the prize.
“It went really well,” he maintained. “I knew that if I was going to do anything, it was on the first two climbs, I know them really well. You have to be a realist, there are some very, very good climbers and with fatigue, too, you have to have a target.”
Charteau insisted that his tactic had worked, saying: “I eliminated some riders. I know that Christophe Moreau has come closer. I have one rider to keep an eye on, that will be easier.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.