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Rediff.com  » Sports » Armstrong on Contador's side

Armstrong on Contador's side

July 20, 2009 12:19 IST

Alberto Contador proved time was on his side when he outclassed seven times champion Lance Armstrong and the rest of the peloton to seize the Tour de France lead in the Alps on Sunday.

The Spaniard surged ruthlessly with six kilometres left in the 207.5-km 15th stage to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier to collect the stage laurels and his first yellow jersey since his 2007 victory in Paris.

"I'm very pleased with this result. It was not a very long climb but we tackled it very rapidly and I was able to move as I wanted," the 26-year-old said.

"I saw there was a chance with five kilometres to go and I did what was required to make a difference," he added.

Second place in the stage went to Luxembourg champion Andy Schleck, the only rider almost on par with Contador in the climbs, who crossed the line 43 seconds behind him.

Italy's Vincenzo Nibali was third ahead of the other leading Tour contenders but all eyes were on Armstrong in the final climb to Verbier.

The American discovered his 37-year-old legs were probably not fit enough for him to challenge Astana team mate Contador any longer.

He finished 1:35 off the pace, which was enough to put him second overall, 1:37 behind the rider he will assist from now on.

ARMSTRONG DOMESTIQUE

Armstrong, who returned to competition in January after three and half years retirement to try and win an eighth Tour, conceded defeat.

"Sure Alberto is the best rider. Sure he is the best climber. You know when everybody is to the limit and you can accelerate again, that's how you win the Tour. I have been there."

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm happy to be his domestique. I'm proud of him," he told reporters.

Contador acknowledged he is now the undisputed leader of both his team and the Tour.

"The situation is now very favourable to me. Of course the team is behind me. They worked great all week and they will continue to do so next week."

Contador will keep the yellow jersey until Tuesday at least as the peloton enjoy a one-day break in Martigny.

One of the surprises of the stage was Bradley Wiggins's consistency on the climbs. The Garmin-Slipstream rider is third overall 1:46 behind Contador.

Already up with the very best in the Pyrenees, the Olympic pursuit champion, who has lost seven kilos since the 2008 Beijing Games, is now in a position to become the first Briton to finish on the Tour podium.

"It's a long way. Let's not get too excited and take it day by day. I've trained hard physically and mentally for this. But I don't think too far ahead," he said.

Among the riders who could be a threat for the podium, Andy Schleck confirmed he would be dangerous in the next stages in the Alps.

"Contador is the best but I did everything I could to limit the damage. For many riders, the Tour finished today. For me it started today," said the Saxo Bank team leader, who lies fifth overall, 2:26 behind Contador.

Former world champion Tom Boonen is among those for whom the Tour is over. The 2007 green jersey winner called it quits before the start of the stage after being ill all night, organisers said.

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