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Armstrong: no longer superhuman?

Armstrong admits defeat, but may be back next year.

By Staff writer / July 20, 2009

Astana rider Lance Armstrong (r.) of the US rides followed by teammate Alberto Contador (l.) of Spain, current leader of the 96th Tour de France cycling race, during a training session on a rest day in Sion Monday.

Eric Gaillard/Reuters

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Lance Armstrong is not superhuman after all, it appears.

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He defied disease, won seven Tour de France victories, and remained defiant in the face of relentless critics and anti-doping officials who were convinced no one could reign supreme for so long without taking a little special sauce on the side.

But his pistons simply wouldn’t fire fast enough to match the furious pace of Spanish teammate Alberto Contador in the final stretches of Sunday’s stage through the Alps. Armstrong, while clearly disappointed to find he doesn’t have what it will take for an eighth Tour victory, signaled that he doesn't think he's over-the-hill.

"There might be people out there that expect me to ride like I did in 2004 or 2005; that's not reality,” said Armstrong, who is sitting in second overall heading into the final week of the Tour. “If I do another year and get another season under my belt maybe we could see that condition come back. Right now, I don't have it. At 38 years old, I am not sure that should come as a surprise."

Spanish papers reveled in their countryman’s defeat of the Tour king, with one saying “The road has put each rider in his place.”

Armstrong played it differently, shifting focus to the work the Astana team will need to put in to help Contador clinch the victory.

"Now it is clear we have the strongest rider in the race. If we play it smart we can have three guys in the top five, and the guy who wins. I think now is time to put my chances aside and focus on the team," he said.

After a rest day Monday, the Tour resumes Tuesday with a 100-mile stage that starts at Martigny. The riders will ascend 6,500 feet in about 25 miles, winding their way up to the Col du Grand-St.-Bernard before descending into Italy’s beautiful Aosta Valley and then ride back into France under the shadow of Mont Blanc to the north. You can see the profile of the ups and downs of this mountain stage here and compare the route with your own European travels here .

But even if Armstrong truly is out of the running for the yellow jersey, Contador may face an attack from a different quarter: Bradley Wiggins of the Garmin-Chipotle team. The reigning world and Olympic pursuit champion in cycling, Wiggins put on an impressive showing in Sunday’s race – pulling away from Armstrong and pulling himself into third place in the overall standings.

His team, which was one of the first to launch an independent, aggressive antidoping program in addition to the sport’s increased requirements, is on a mission to transform cycling and make it possible to compete clean – thus helping to rebuild the popularity of a sport dogged by drug scandals.

And if Wiggins – or someone else – tightens up the race enough for a photo finish to be relevant, who will make the call about whose wheel crossed first? Check out this video from YouTube, and hear straight from the guys in the booth who examine the tape footage and make official results sheets within six minutes of the peloton whizzing by.

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