For the first time in recent memory, Lance Armstrong admitted Saturday there is at least one bike rider that can get the better of him. And those who saw the finish in Verbier, Switzerland during Stage 15 of the Tour de France would be hard pressed to argue with him.
In the blink of an eye, Alberto Contador shot through with a sudden burst of acceleration that nobody was going to match. Even if Armstrong had been on a rival team, it would have made no difference Saturday. He wasn't playing the role of a teammate. He was playing the role of a beaten rider.
"He showed he's the best rider in the race, certainly the best climber," Armstrong said in an interview with Versus after the stage.
Certainly, Contador looks unbeatable at this point. In the only two mountain stages that have been seriously contested, he has blown away the field of general classification contenders.
The first time, on the way to Arcalis during Stage Seven, he denied Armstrong his dream of a yellow jersey. The second time, on the road to Verbier, he denied everybody else that same dream.
He was the winner of the Tour de France two years ago, and the only reason he did not win it last year was that his team was barred from competing. Otherwise, he would have three yellow jerseys at home, which would mean he would be well on his way to surpassing Armstrong's total of seven.
Given the fact that no one has proven they can hold onto Contador's wheel when he launches a devastating acceleration on the steep climbs, it is hard to figure out how anyone is going to beat him. It would take a total collapse of strategy for Astana to lose, and that is not likely to happen.
The only question now is: Where will Armstrong finish?
He lost time on some of the former contenders today, but not a lot. He has proven he can climb with the very best, not counting Contador. Perhaps, with Contador protecting a yellow jersey and the others disheartened, Armstrong can finally get that stage win at the top of Ventoux Saturday.
That is the only legendary peak of the Tour where Armstrong has not won. It would be a nice consolation prize.
Still, many may think a simple podium finish in Paris is a little anticlimactic for the man who used to be able to attack like no other.
Now, there is another.
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