Contador takes control with stage win
VERBIER, Switzerland - Lance Armstrong all but conceded the Tour de France yesterday to his teammate and rival Alberto Contador after the Spaniard blew away the pack and seized the yellow jersey as the race entered the Alps.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy to be a domestique,’’ Armstrong said, using French cycling jargon for a backup rider. “I’m proud of him.’’
The seven-time Tour champion moved up from fourth to second in the standings but lost time to his Astana teammate, whom he now trails by 1 minute 37 seconds.
Contador, the 2007 Tour champ, basked in the support.
“Lance Armstrong was my idol, but dropping him today wasn’t important - he was just like any other rider . . . It’s an honor for me to have him working for me,’’ he told reporters through a translator.
The 26-year-old Spaniard broke away from other prerace favorites with 3 1/2 miles left in the 128.9-mile ride from Pontarlier, France, to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier - and he kept extending his lead to the finish.
“I’m very happy with this result. The climb wasn’t that long, but I wanted to make a difference,’’ said Contador, who looked fresh and tapped his chest as he finished. “I gave the maximum.’’
Contador came into yesterday’s stage in third place overall, six seconds behind Rinaldo Nocentini, who had led the race for eight days. Contador finished in 5 hours 3 minutes 58 seconds.
Andy Schleck of Luxembourg was second in the stage, 43 seconds back, and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy was third, 1:03 back. Nocentini was 2:36 off the pace.
Armstrong, who had entered the day fourth overall and eight seconds behind Nocentini, finished ninth, 1:35 behind his teammate.
Armstrong’s rivalry with Contador, on ice during last week’s mostly flat stages, was set to reignite in Verbier.
Contador said yesterday’s result left no doubt about who should be considered the Astana team leader.
“The differences now are pretty big, and the team’s bet should now be me, no?’’ Contador said. “I’m sure my teammates are going to put in great work to back me up just like they did today.’’
Armstrong conceded that Contador had been superior.
“I think when Alberto went, he showed he’s the best rider in the race, certainly the best climber,’’ Armstrong said.
The American vowed that he would not go against the interests of the team by attacking Contador later in the race.
“That’s not going to happen,’’ he said. “There’s been a lot of drama between Alberto and me . . . but at the end of the day we sit as a team.’’