Lance Armstrong’s bid for a stage win began before the stage even started.
Before going on an all-day attack on arguably the toughest stage of the 2010 Tour, Armstrong signed in early, and then went out for a warm-up with and teammates Chris Horner and Andreas Klöden on the course, which kicked up into a Cat. 1 climb literally at the race start. After a short neutral roll-out out of Luchen, the 0 KM sign signaling the start of the race was posted right next to the KOM sign signaling the start of the 11km Col de Peyresourde.
Armstrong clearly wanted to have the engine warmed up from the drop of the flag.
“This day was kinda dog-eared in the book,” Armstrong said, referring to the detailed 232-page race book all teams consult throughout the Tour.
After falling out of overall contention on stage 8 in the Alps, Armstrong was widely expected to go for a stage win in his final Tour de France. They only question was when.
Just minutes into stage 15, that question was answered as he shot up the road with Nicholas Roche (Ag2r), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and a few others. The group soon swelled to 16 men, and the group of race leader Alberto Contador was pursuing so earnestly — firing riders out of the back like a machine gun — that at one point the “peloton” consisted of 14 men.
“I knew it was going to be difficult. I knew that a group was going to go away,” Armstrong said. “It was made more difficult because you had these guys like [Roman] Kreuziger (Liquigas) and [Ryder] Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) who are not GC contenders but they’re close enough the favorites didn’t want to let them go. It was full gas all day.”
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) also made their way into the break, dooming its chances.
The bulk of the break stayed away over the Cat. 1 Col d’Aspin and onto the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet before the peloton reeled it in.
Or reeled most of it in.
Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) jumped clear, and Armstrong chased after him just as the rest of their break mates were being absorbed. Soon Casar blew and Armstrong was on his own. A second break formed behind and soon joined up with Armstrong. Together, the 10-man group rode over the Tourmalet.
In the preceeding stages, there had been much speculation about why Armstrong was sitting up in the closing kilometers — even on days like stage 12 that essentially finished in a group sprint. That conservation may or may not have allowed him to stay off the front of the race in multiple breaks over two Cat. 1 climbs and two hors categorie mountains. Armstrong wasn’t interested in settling the speculation — he was looking for a victory.
Hundreds of thousands if not millions of fans packed the roadside throughout the day.
“I gotta say, this entire Tour the fans have been really nice to me, and very supportive,” Armstrong said. “Today when [we] were out there in the break with the smaller group. They can get close to you, they can talk to you, you can talk back to them. I appreciate their support. They don’t have to come to the tour. They don’t have to fly from all over the world and come and stand by the side of the road, but they do, and I appreciate it.”
In the end, however, no amount of fan support or deep motivation was enough to deliver the win. After reeling in an attacking Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), the bunch finished in a sprint on the flat finish. Armstrong jumped from the back of the group and put his head down for the sprint, but didn’t have the kick necessary to come all the way around. Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom) won; Armstrong finished sixth.
“It’s been a while since I sprinted,” Armstrong said. “We knew Fedrigo was the fastest, and then Cunego. I tried to catch his wheel. Just not quick enough.”
Armstrong was quick to congratulate his teammate Chris Horner, who battled up to the second breakaway and did a good chunk of work chasing Barredo. Armstrong also tipped his hat to Fedrigo.
“I’m not the best guy in the race. But I still have the spirit of a fighter, I suppose,” Armstrong said. “I focused on the stage, tried to get in the moves. It didn’t work. I wasn’t fast enough in the end. Fedrigo was very fast and he earned the win. Chapeau to him.”
Armstrong and the rest of the peloton have four more chances for stage wins: an HC mountaintop finish on the Tourmalet Thursday, a flat sprint stage Friday, a time trial Saturday and then the ceremonial flat finish Sunday.