It was the cobbled roads – more than eight miles of them, in fact – that left the most decorated Tour winner and the rest of the peloton looking like rag dolls on bikes.
On the sixth of the seven cobblestoned sections – the organizers break them up so riders aren’t spending more than a few minutes being tossed around in the saddle – Armstrong suffered a puncture.
After waiting 45 seconds for a new wheel, he got back on the bike but had lost valuable time.
“Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail,” Armstrong said outside of his team bus after the race. “Today I was the nail.”
The hammer turned out to be a man named Thor.
Thor Hushovd, a Norwegian sprint specialist riding with Cervelo TestTeam, fought his way to the front of the race and edged out a group of five contenders.
After the race, he offered his best advice on how to handle the nasty cobbles.
“You need a lot of luck, to handle the bike well, and don’t take too big of a risk,” he said after his win. “It’s a mix of everything.”
The cobblestone sections are normally reserved for one-day races in the spring, but organizers decided to add them to cycling’s most important race.
The cobbled sections, known as pavé in French, usually wreak havoc.
It’s not uncommon for riders to puncture a tire, ride off into a ditch, or smack the pavement, breaking bike and bones.