Beyond the Peloton

July 11, 2010 11:42 AM

The King Is Dead, Long Live the King!

Lance Armstrong is finished at this year's Tour de France, as is his glorious and controversial career. The coup de grace was three separate crashes in a shocking Stage 8 that resulted in his losing over 10 minutes to the leaders.

The spills, including one that he hit the deck while circling a roundabout, robbed him of time and energy at a crucial time when the leaders were putting on a relentless pace. A bruised and battered Lance could only blame his "bad luck" after he finally rolled across the finish line, knowing that he'll be no more than a domestique for teammate Levi Leipheimer for the rest of the Tour, if he chooses to remain.

But Armstrong, who had nothing but a knack for escaping troubles in his seven consecutive Tour-winning rides, will be the first to say that you make your own luck.

0711-Tour_full_600.jpgStage 8 was only the latest series of bad luck to bedevil Armstrong. In Stage 3, he suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure at a  most inopportune time that cost him a minute on the cobblestones. These mishaps are more than random events. They're more likely to happen to riders who are out of position and have lapses in their preparation and concentration.

Father Time is also a factor. While Armstrong is still a world class rider, at 38 he simply just does not have the explosiveness or the ability to recover as quickly as he did when he was dominating the Tour.

With Armstrong now completely out of the picture, the question turns to, who will be king?

Before the Tour, the answer is unequivocally, Alberto Contador, a two-time champion going for his fifth grand tour title. But near the finish of Stage 8 his vulnerability was exposed by Andy Schleck, who has emerged as his most formidable rival. Schleck charged ahead in the final km and Contador was unable to match the his acceleration.

Schleck will have to gain probably up to two minutes in the upcoming mountain stages before the individual time trial if he's to unseat Contador as the champion. The problem for Schleck is that he will have to do much of the work by himself as his brother Frank crashed out during Stage 3.

Cadel Evans, who took over the yellow jersey after Stage 8, is also firmly in the mix for, at worst, a podium finish. But he will not be able to match the kick of Schleck and Contador on the steepest climbs, so at best he'll have to gain back time in the time trial in the penultimate stage.

We do know now the one guy who'll no longer be a factor. Armstrong might soon, though, have a much nastier foe to contend with than Contador, Schleck and Evans. His name is Jeff Novitzky.

(To be continued ...)

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