Saturday, July 25, 2009

Armstrong claims Tour podium after four-year absence


American Lance Armstrong appears to have ended his return to the Tour de France with a third overall. He remained with the race favourites on Saturday's stage to Mont Ventoux, despite numerous attacks from his rivals.

"I can't complain," said Armstrong after the stage. "For an old fart coming in here and getting on the podium, [it's] not so bad."

Armstrong started the Tour de France's last decisive day third behind Astana teammate Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank). Behind him were rivals Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream), at 35 seconds, and Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank), at 38 seconds.

The penultimate day of the Tour de France ended with the Mont Ventoux climb. The climb rises 1588 metres in 21.1 kilometres, and high winds often hit the final kilometres after the trees disappear. Today, there were headwinds that were 40km/h at times.

"It was not as windy as advertised. It feels windy here at the top, but it was a little less than we thought on the way up. I mean, I can't complain. It was kind of simple: follow Wiggins and follow Fränk Schleck, and I had the legs to do that."

Fränk Schleck and his brother Andy attacked multiple times up the climb. Fränk started with an attack at 13 kilometres remaining, but Armstrong responded immediately. Andy Schleck attacked about seven times, but Armstrong remained with his immediate rivals.

He finished the day fifth at 41 seconds behind winner Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank) and kept together with Wiggins and Klöden. Spaniard Contador finished fourth and protected his overall lead, 4:11 ahead of Andy Schleck.

Mont Ventoux is one of cycling's famous climbs due to its difficulties and famous battles. Armstrong has never won on the climb, but enjoyed the day nonetheless.

"I have never seen so many people on the Ventoux. It seemed like half of America showed up and all of France. It was so packed, and when you have a lot of people, it blocks a lot of the wind."

Armstrong retired after he won the 2005 Tour de France, his seventh consecutive Tour win. He returned to racing at the beginning of this year with Australia's Tour Down Under. He last raced up Mont Ventoux in 2002, when he finished third behind Richard Virenque.

The 2009 Tour de France will end Sunday in Paris. On the flat stage, the overall classification shouldu stay the same.

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