`Isolated' Armstrong struggles in Stage 8

Teammates can't help in 1st big climb, though he keeps yellow jersey

Tour De France

July 10, 2005|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

GERARDMER, France - Lance Armstrong looked left and saw Jan Ullrich. He looked right and saw Alexandre Vinokourov. He knew Andreas Kloeden was somewhere ahead. Three men dressed in pink and riding for the German T-Mobile team.

What Armstrong couldn't see yesterday in the Tour de France were any of his Discovery Channel teammates - not George Hincapie, who had started the day in second place and who dropped to eighth; not climbing buddies Jose Azevedo, who finished fifth in the Tour last year (he's 15th now); not Jose Luis Rubiera or Manuel Beltran.

For the first time in a long time, Armstrong was alone, and he couldn't reel in all the breakaway riders.

Kloeden, who lost the 143.8-mile stage from Pforzheim in Germany to this lakeside village near the Vosges mountains in a photo finish to Dutchman Pieter Weening, moved into ninth place overall. Kloeden was the Tour's runner-up last year. Weening won the stage in 5 hours, 3 minutes, 54 seconds. Armstrong finished 20th, 27 seconds behind the winner.

CSC, the Danish-based team that represents a California company, has four riders in the top 10 now, with American Bobby Julich fourth and last year's third-place finisher, Ivan Basso, in fifth.

Vinokourov, the rider from Kazakhstan whose huge thighs help him in the climbs and whose aggressive personality makes him eager to attack, is in third place. Ullrich, the 1997 champion and a five-time Tour runner-up, is now in sixth after a disastrous opening time trial a week ago left him 12th.

Moving into second place was another German, CSC's Jens Voigt, who is 1 minute behind Armstrong.

"Only so many fires I can put out alone," Armstrong said later.

During the first serious climb this year, his Discovery Channel teammates weren't able to keep up with the 33-year-old, six-time defending champion.

So on a breezy afternoon on the way up the Col de la Schlucht, Armstrong was alone. Vinokourov, who missed last year's race with an injury, attacked first on the 10.2-mile final climb. Armstrong chased, but his teammates didn't have the legs left to follow.

"I was isolated," Armstrong said, "and I was suffering."

As Armstrong stood alone at the daily ceremony where he was re-awarded the yellow jersey, he was smiling. But after the photos were taken and the podium girls had finished pecking his cheek, the smile disappeared.

"Just because I've won six Tours," he said, "the seventh isn't going to be any easier."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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