Any doubts about a possible war inside the Astana team between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador were blown away when the Spaniard attacked in the final two kilometres of the stage to Andorra Arcalis on Friday.
Armstrong still had a chance of pulling on the yellow jersey but the gloves suddenly came off when Contador surged away. It was clear he was riding for himself and the denials and false diplomacy has finally been cast aside.
Armstrong used to stamp his authority on the Tour de France on the first mountain finish but this time Contador showed he has the 'cojones' to attack Lance Armstrong.
He failed to take the yellow jersey himself but he gained 21 seconds on Armstrong. He is six seconds behind leader Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) but is now two precious seconds ahead of the Texan. That means he, not Armstrong, is likely to pull on the yellow jersey on Saturday or Sunday if Nocentini falters in the Pyrenees.
Contador's attack was a body blow to Armstrong's dreams of pulling on the yellow jersey for the first time since retiring in Paris on 2005 and he was not happy about it, revealing it was not how the Astana had planned their tactics for the stage.
“It wasn't really to the plan but I didn't expect him to go by the plan. It's no surprise,” Armstrong said with a mix of bitterness and anger in his voice, clearly acknowledging that there are huge problems between him and Contador.
When asked about his own ride, Armstrong claimed he rode for the good of the team.
“When you've got a guy away, like I said all along, my obligation is to the team and you've just got to stay on the wheel. Schleck put in some good moves, Cadel put in some good moves and Wiggo put in a good move there at the end but you've got to stay on the wheel. That's bike racing,” he said.
“The team's good as you saw there, Klodi was good, Levi is strong, of course Alberto is strong. The team won't be the problem...”
Armstrong claimed the stage was not suited to long-range attacks like the ones he did in 1999 to Sestriere or to Hautacam in 2000. But hinted that there will be plenty of stage for riders to fight it out later in the Tour.
“I did not expect a demonstration like in some of the other years on the first
mountain stage. The wind wasn't conducive, you saw a a big group there,” he said.
“It's not a very steep climb, the pace was rather high, with constant rhythm changes because it was headwind, tailwind, headwind, tailwind. Maybe not my specialty but it was not bad considering.”
“We'll have plenty of days at this Tour when there are only a couple of guys together.”
Perhaps him and Contador and fighting it out 'mano a mano' on Mont Ventoux?
TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 LINKS
Tour de France 2009 - the hub: Index to reports, photos, previews and more.
Stage seven: Feillu wins at Arcalis, Nocentini takes yellow, Contador leap-frogs Lance
Stage six: Millar's brave bid denied on Barcelona hill as Hushovd triumphs
Stage five: Voeckler survives chase to win his first Tour stage
Stage four: Astana on top but Armstrong misses yellow by hundredths of a second
Live Tour de France stage four TTT coverage
Stage three: Cavendish wins second stage as Armstrong distances Contador
Stage two: Cavendish takes first sprint
Stage one: Cancellara wins opening time trial
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TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 PHOTOS
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four TTT photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one photo gallery by Andy Jones
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Team presentation by Andy Jones
Team presentation by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2009 - the hub
Tour de France 2009: Who's riding
Tour de France 2009: Team guide
About the Tour de France
Tour de France 2009 on TV: Eurosport and ITV4 schedules
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