Armstrong remains in second after 10th stage
ISSOUDUN, France – Teammates Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong remained second and third in the Tour de France after a technology-free day of riding in which Britain’s Mark Cavendish won the 10th stage.
Organizers banned rider earpieces for Tuesday’s 121-mile route, forcing cyclists to devise tactics without radio instructions from team cars.
Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy kept the leader’s yellow jersey on a flat route favoring sprinters. Contador crossed the line in 40th place. Armstrong, the seven-time champion, finished in the main pack at 46th. Overall, Nocentini stayed six seconds ahead of Contador and eight in front of Armstrong.
Armstrong is coming out of 31/2 years of retirement and chasing an eighth Tour title. Contador is aiming for a second title after winning in 2007. The Spanish mountain specialist was unable to defend his title last year because his Astana team was barred from the race because of doping scandals.
Cavendish edged Thor Hushovd of Norway in a sprint finish, breaking ahead in the final 200 yards. It was the British sprinter’s third stage victory of this Tour and seventh of his career. Tyler Farrar of the United States finished third.
“It was a really hard finish, slightly uphill with a lot of corners,” said Cavendish, who rides for Team Columbia-High Road, said. “I was scared that I attacked too early but (teammate Mark) Renshaw helped me a lot.”
The Tour hoped to inject drama into this race by eliminating earpieces in the 10th and 13th stages. Many riders – Armstrong, Contador and Nocentini among them – criticized the decision.
“I think that for us and for the whole team it is not a good thing,” Nocentini said. “We spoke about the earpieces before the start. The fact is for us it’s dangerous not to have them. There are dangers on the road.”
Armstrong joked about the matter as he got off his Astana team bus and mounted his bike to go to the start line.
“I can’t hear anything; I don’t know anything. … I feel naked,” the 37-year-old Texan said. “I think it’s a lot to do about nothing.”
Astana team director Johan Bruyneel had campaigned for the ban to be overturned. But it was upheld and is also scheduled for Friday, a tricky stage featuring one big climb and possibly many attacks. Teams are still pressuring organizers to overturn the ban.
“My impression is that we’ll have the radio on Friday,” Armstrong said.
With the backing of the cycling’s governing body, Tour organizers decided last month that rider radios and TV sets in cars would be banned for two stages. Earlier in the race, Bruyneel said the Tour was not the place for such an “experiment.”
Earpieces allow riders to be linked to directors in team cars. Riders can be informed of developments and told when they need to attack or chase riders in a breakaway.
The strategy was popularized by Armstrong when he won his first Tour in 1999. Some riders and former champions say the tactic makes cycling too clinical.
“There are arguments to both sides, to have them or not to have them,” Armstrong said. “But, on balance, I think it’s better to have them. In cycling, we have other, more important, things to care about.”
On Tuesday, Thierry Hupond, Benoit Vaugrenard, Mikhail Ignatiev and Samuel Dumoulin were caught following a long breakaway with just under a mile to go. Cavendish then turned into the home straightaway and was pressured by Hushovd but held on.
“Cavendish is very, very fast, but it’s true that he also has a very quick team,” Hushovd said. “I lost four or five meters (yards) to him in the last turn.”
Cavendish, who last year won four stages but did not finish the Tour, was timed in 4 hours, 46 minutes, 43 seconds.
“We had all nine guys there at the finish, working 100 percent and delivering perfectly,” Cavendish said.
Hushovd, who kept the sprinter’s green jersey despite losing points to Cavendish, and Farrar received the same time as Cavendish. With two more flat stages Wednesday and Thursday, Cavendish has Hushovd’s green jersey in his sights. Hushovd has 147 points and Cavendish 141.
Cavendish said he feels fresh because his teammates nursed him through the Pyrenees mountain stages.
“I hope to win more (stages) in the next two days,” he said.