Armstrong staying in running
Sitting third, he’s eyeing one last Tour next year
TARBES, France - With the Pyrenees behind him but the toughest rides still to come, Lance Armstrong is already talking about another run next year in the Tour de France.
The 37-year-old Texan, coming out of 3 1/2 years of retirement, remained in third place after yesterday’s ninth stage. Astana teammate Alberto Contador stayed in second place with about one-third of the race over, and Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy held the yellow jersey a third straight day.
Armstrong rode deliberately during the 100-mile leg that was won by France’s Pierrick Fedrigo and took cyclists from Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes and through the Roman Catholic shrine town of Lourdes.
“Today was pretty controlled, I thought, although it’s never easy,’’ Armstrong said. “It was very hot; the tempo was pretty regular . . . We [Astana] just sat there and kind of rode our race.’’
The seven-time champion’s appetite for competition clearly is not satisfied. After the day’s racing, he was asked if this would be his last year in cycling’s premier race.
“Probably not,’’ he said. “Maybe one more Tour.’’
Armstrong’s legs have proved resilient and his racing savvy impressive. He also has responded to the challenge from one of the sport’s brightest lights - Contador, the 2007 Tour winner. Their rivalry within Astana has now burst into the open.
“The honest truth is that there is a little tension,’’ Armstrong said in his most explicit comments yet that teamwork may be taking a back seat to individual ambitions.
Contador has skirted the issue. On Saturday, he grumbled about the repeated questions concerning which rider was the team leader. In a statement from his spokesman yesterday, he did not mention Armstrong or team dissent.
Contador and Armstrong remained second and third for the third day in a row. Contador is six seconds behind Nocentini and Armstrong is eight seconds back.
American Levi Leipheimer follows Armstrong in the standings, 39 seconds behind Nocentini, giving Astana the second, third, and fourth spots entering today’s offday for the Tour.
Among other favorites, Christian Vande Velde of the US is eighth, 1:24 behind; Andy Schleck of Luxembourg is 1:49 back in ninth; and defending Tour champion Carlos Sastre of Spain is 2:52 behind in 16th.
Armstrong predicts the next shakeout will come in Stage 15, when riders head from Pontarlier, France, to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier, featuring an uphill finish.
“Now we’re going to have three or four days that probably won’t change the classification,’’ he said. “I think all of the favorites are considering Verbier the next big test.’’