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Beyond the Peloton


July 6, 2010 11:53 AM

Has Armstrong Already Blown the Tour?

On a day when the peloton splintered all over the cobblestones, it wasn't the strongest bike racers who survived.

It was simply, the strongest bikes that survived.

07tour2-articleLarge.jpgMechanical problems ruled the day, as Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and yellow jersey Sylvain Chavanel all lost chunks of time when their bikes failed them. But the front wheel puncture on Armstrong's bike might prove to be the most costly.

Armstrong lost nearly a minute to Contador and over two minutes to fellow GC contenders Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans. The damage could've been worse but thanks to Contador's rear tire problems near the finish line, Lance saved precious seconds against his chief rival. But his deficit now might be insurmountable.

The trouble all started with a crash in the second cobblestone section, when Frank Schleck went down hard. Probably hearing the news on their earpiece that Frank was out with a broken collarbone, brother Andy and Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank launched a stunning and savage attack. Of all the GC contenders, only Evans responded to the challenge while others were left behind.

Initially, it was Contador who was completely caught out, but he quickly regained his bearings and made contact with Armstrong's group, which was trying to reel in the Saxo Bank clique. Then Armstrong had his breakdown, and, with the team car well behind him, it took awhile to get his front wheel replaced. It required a herculean effort, first by Yaroslav Popovych's pacing, and then Lance's solo ride through the pave amidst the dirt and dust, just to keep the final gap at 2:08.

But that might've been too much already, especially the 55 seconds he lost to Contador. Stage 3 was supposed to be the day Lance actually gained time on Contador, knowing the young Spaniard is expected to be superior in the mountains and the final time trial. Armstrong now has no margin for error against Andy Schleck, and also Evans, who has emerged to be a major threat to win his first grand tour.

On this day, Armstrong's first biography was a complete misnomer. It was all about the bike.

Preview of Stage 4 (Cambrai to Reims)

After three days of complete chaos on the road, some sanity returns to the Tour as sprinters should take center stage. The route is flat with a long straightaway toward the finish, which should result in the 2010 race's first mass sprint.

Prediction: Robbie McEwen, who won this finish in 2002, will seek to repeat the feat against Mark Cavendish, who is a bit nicked up, and Tyler Farrar, who is really hurt with a broken wrist. Cancellara, after having reclaimed the yellow jersey from Chavanel, will now be safely in the lead for at least the rest of the week.

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