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Tour de France

Armstrong’s new priorities: helping Leipheimer, team GC and a team stage win

Armstrong says helping Leipheimer get on the podium and helping RadioShack win the team GC are top priorities

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Lance Armstrong says he will finish off his final Tour de France as a helper for teammate Levi Leipheimer and try to win a stage.

Armstrong’s GC hopes ended Sunday when he lost more than 11 minutes and tumbled out of contention for an eighth Tour crown. Following Monday’s rest day, Armstrong promises he will go down fighting.

“We have a few things. We have got to help Levi stay up as high as he can. And with his ability to time trial hopefully we can come close to (getting him on) the podium if he can continue to climb well,” Armstrong said before Tuesday’s start.

“The team GC is a big priority,” Armstrong continued. “RadioShack prides itself on that. We have won a lot of races on the team GC so we want to try to do well there and try to win some stages — not just myself, but the other guys. Look at (Chris) Horner. He is super strong, super fit.”

Armstrong shrugged off suggestions that he is affected by pressure from an ongoing investigation into doping allegations leveled against him by former teammate Floyd Landis.

“No … no. I mean, it’s a big day so … got to forget all the distraction and all the bad luck and just try and keep my head in the race,” Armstrong said.

RadioShack boss Johan Bruyneel said the team will rally around Leipheimer’s GC hopes and try to put Armstrong in position to win a stage before the Tour ends in Paris on July 25.

Armstrong, meanwhile, tried to put his best face on Sunday’s setback, admitting that his GC chances finished, but adding that he hopes to end the Tour on a high note.

Armstrong was caught up in three crashes Sunday, including a nasty, high-speed spill when he hit the deck when he punctured coming through a round-about near the base of the decisive, Cat. 1 Col de la Ramaz.

“Physically, it changed there. Tactically, it changed there. You obviously don’t hit the ground at 60kph … it obviously came at a bad time,” he said. “It was 10km from the Ramaz, slightly uphill, when the field was accelerating. … That was not just positioning. It was hard for us to come back. We just didn’t catch on at the bottom of the climb and I was already in the hurt box.”

Perhaps to help put the disappointment behind him, Armstrong rode up the Joux-Plane climb on Monday’s rest day, site of a rare Armstrong bonk in the 2000 Tour when he lost time to Jan Ullrich but recovered to win his second of seven straight Tour victories.

Armstrong started Tuesday’s 204.5km ninth stage from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in 39th at 13:26 to Australian race leader Cadel Evans (BMC).