|Pierrick Fedrigo (rear) upstaged Lance Armstrong, who dropped from first to sixth in Stage 16. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)|
Armstrong going down with a fight
PAU, France — In his final days of his final Tour de France, Lance Armstrong showed some of the old fire.
The seven-time champion, knowing full well he no longer stands above all others in his sport, fought from beginning to end in the hopes of going out with a stage victory high in the Pyrenees.
It was not to be. Armstrong finished sixth after breaking away early in the 16th stage and holding his own through four major climbs of the Tour’s most demanding leg. But he lost in a final sprint, with Frenchman Pierrick Fedrigo winning the 124-mile ride.
Alberto Contador was almost seven minutes behind, his Astana team asserting control over the field. The defending champion from Spain kept the overall lead, eight seconds ahead of Andy Schleck of Luxembourg. The two rode a day after Contador apologized for the way in which he took the yellow jersey.
Yesterday, Armstrong, broke away on his own before he was caught by a small group of riders. All of which was a bit of a change for the 38-year-old Texan.
“It was harder than I expected. It’s been awhile since I sprinted,’’ he said. “Just not quick enough. I’m not the best guy in the race but I still have the spirit of a fighter. Fedrigo is very fast and he deserves the win.’’
The Tour ends in Paris on Sunday, and Armstrong acknowledged his career was nearing the finish.
“Lance Armstrong is over in about four days,’’ he said.
Armstrong’s coach, Johan Bruyneel, said the course was not ideal for Armstrong to prevail.
“You really have to be very, very strong to ride away,’’ he said. “And there’s always going to be one or two guys with him, who are equally strong in the sprint,’’ he said.
Nothing good materialized off the race course for Armstrong. Three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond told The Denver Post he believes evidence against Armstrong in a federal probe will be “overwhelming.’’
LeMond also said he believes Floyd Landis was telling the truth in his descriptions of what he claimed was Armstrong’s systemic doping program. Armstrong has denied allegations of doping.
Back on the course, second place went to France’s Sandy Casar, with Spain’s Ruben Plaza third.
The stage featured two climbs that are so difficult they aren’t even classified by cycling’s governing body. The leading group finished the race in 5 hours, 31 minutes and 43 seconds.
“It was my day. Everything smiled on me,’’ said Fedrigo, who also won a stage in 2009 and 2006 and has regularly been part of breakaways in this year’s race.
Today is a rest day. Tomorrow the field rides the Pyrenees in the other direction, ending on the top of the Col du Tourmalet.