Lance Armstrong reeled himself back into podium contention in Thursday’s 40-kilometer stage of the Tour de France, with only one decisive stage remaining. The American cyclist now stands in third, 5:25 behind teammate and race leader Alberto Contador. (Overall standings)
In the individual time trial, in which riders started three minutes apart and raced the clock, Contador edged out Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara by three seconds – you can see the full stage results here. (And check out this great photo of Contador gritting his teeth down the final stretch.)
The result showed the Spanish rider’s significant improvement since last summer, when Cancellara won Olympic gold in the same event only weeks after racing the Tour. A more rested Contador, whose Astana team was banned from last year’s Tour due to a doping scandal, finished fourth.
This time, Contador was the one who had reason to be slow, having put in a grueling performance in the Alps on Wednesday that bested Cancellara’s time by a whopping 35 minutes.
But with only one major climbing stage left before Sunday’s parade into Paris, and Contador having proven himself as one of the best in the mountains, his second Tour win is virtually assured.
Unless Armstrong pulls a Floyd Landis-like day on Saturday, pulling away from the field and putting six minutes or more on Contador, there’s no way he can bag an eighth win. But he’s said he’ll be back next year. No more Astana though, the Kazakhstan-based team with serious financial problems.
Instead, he announced Thursday, he’ll be riding with a new team sponsored by RadioShack as a “cyclist, runner and triathlete.” Maybe they’ll even let him keep the fancy ‘art bike’ he paraded around Lac d’Annecy on Thursday.
As the Monitor wrote on Tuesday, it’s well worth keeping an eye on British track cyclist Bradley Wiggins, sitting only 11 seconds behind Armstrong. Wiggins, the reigning Olympic and world pursuit champion, has shown excellent form in the climbing stages and was running in the Top-3 for much of Thursday’s stage before slipping into sixth at the finish.
Earlier in the week, accosted by a hoard of microphone-wielding reporters as he sat panting on the pavement, Wiggins told everyone not to get too excited.
In a post-race video, teammate David Millar – a reformed doper – was a little more blunt, saying the ‘old Wiggins, the fat Wiggins’ would have had serious trouble on the climbs but since slimming down in recent months the Brit was a real threat on the hills.
In tense silence that will be all-too-familiar to former competitors, the riders go through the methodical pre-race ritual of pinning their numbers onto their jerseys and then crumpling them to guard against wind resistance.
Hey, at 60 miles per hour, every little bit counts.
Editor's note: This story was updated Friday at 7:22 a.m. Eastern Time to correct a misleading headline.