Armstrong stays 3rd at Tour; Haussler wins stage
COLMAR, France – Lance Armstrong stayed in third place after a wet and chilly ride Friday and lost a crucial ally for the rest of the Tour de France when teammate Levi Leipheimer withdrew because of a broken wrist.
Germany’s Heinrich Haussler won the 13th stage by outclassing the pack with a solo breakaway, and Italy’s Rinaldo Nocentini kept the yellow jersey for a seventh straight day.
Armstrong, the seven-time champion, remained eight seconds behind Nocentini. Astana teammate Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour champion, is second, six seconds back. Armstrong, Contador and other favorites were 6 minutes, 43 seconds behind Haussler.
Leipheimer’s withdrawal is a blow to Astana and Armstrong. He is a four-time top-10 finisher at the Tour, including third place finish in 2007. He had been in fourth place, 39 seconds behind Nocentini.
Leipheimer and Armstrong have a close relationship within Astana, which Armstrong says is riven by “tension” with Contador.
“He’s a good friend of mine so it makes it even more unfortunate, but that’s cycling,” said Armstrong, stressing that Leipheimer’s absence is a big loss.
“You saw even there, in some stages in the Pyrenees, when there was an attack, we had four guys there. And now, one’s gone,” Armstrong said. “Not only does it hurt us, I think it helps the others in terms of morale, and thinking perhaps that the team has been weakened.”
At first, it appeared Leipheimer might remain in the race.
“It seemed like an insignificant crash that all of a sudden turned out to be pretty major,” Armstrong said.
Leipheimer fell off his bike less than two miles from Thursday’s finish line in a crash involving two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans. He pulled out before riders began the day’s 124-mile stage through the rolling hills of northeast France that featured three big climbs, including the demanding Col du Platzerwasel.
Haussler, a Cervelo rider who won a stage at Paris-Nice in March, raced ahead of the second of two fellow breakaway riders in the last 31 miles and distanced himself from the peloton as the finish neared.
Haussler cupped his face in his hands and choked up with emotion as he crossed the line in 4:56:26 – 4:11 ahead of second-place Amets Txurruka of Spain. Brice Feillu of France was third, 6:13 back.
“I was really happy. I just got teary,” said Haussler, who was born in Australia to a German father. “I just couldn’t believe it. … I was just so nervous that I was going to crash.”
Haussler, who collected his first Tour stage victory, entered the stage in 105th place overall – 55:24 behind Nocentini. He rose to 83rd overall with his win, 48:41 off the leader’s pace.
Leipheimer’s injury was not the only thing to trouble Armstrong. He was angered by the criticism from French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot, who said Astana riders stayed out of sight too long during a random doping check last week.
“Enough is enough,” the 37-year-old Texan said. “This is ridiculous. We’ve been controlled more than anybody else on the race. We have had this team for a long time. We’ve never had a positive control. Yes, we are successful. Yes, we are the strongest team in the race. But enough of the (outcry) in the media.”
Friday’s stage brought the return of rider earpieces. The International Cycling Union buckled under pressure from many teams and lifted a planned ban of them in the 13th stage. That decision meant riders raced with their customary electronic radio gear, with coaches informing them of possible attacks and hazards.
The ban had been in effect for Tuesday’s 10th stage, an experiment aimed at forcing riders to manage the course on their own in hopes of adding drama to the race. Many riders and teams called the move dangerous.
Saturday’s 14th stage cover 124 miles through plains from Colmar to Besancon. The leg comes a day before a trip into Switzerland and to the ski resort of Verbier that many riders believe will shake up the standings.