Bike problems slow seven-time champ
ARENBERG, France – Lance Armstrong’s hopes for victory in his final Tour de France hit a setback Tuesday when a burst tire cost him time during a jarring stage over cobblestones that was won by Norway’s Thor Hushovd.
“Our chances took a knock today,” Armstrong said. “I’m not going home, we’ll stay in the race and keep trying.”
Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland finished the third stage in a five-man group behind Hushovd, but he regained the yellow jersey he ceded a day earlier to Sylvain Chavanel of France. Hushovd was ahead of Geraint Thomas of Britain and world champion Cadel Evans of Australia in a sprint finish among the leading group of riders.
The 132-mile ride from Belgium to France was the most dreaded stage of week one – with seven sections of bone-jarring cobblestones that threatened injury, bike damage or lost time for contenders.
“Bad luck,” Armstrong said, referring to his mishap in the fifth patch.
Some had worse luck: Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, who won the Tour of Switzerland last month, crashed on the fourth section and was injured and out of the race.
Armstrong noted there’s still a lot of racing left in the three-week race, which now heads toward the Alps and later the Pyrenees before the Paris finish on July 25.
“It’s the nature of the sport,” he said. “Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail. Today I was the nail. I have 20 days now to be the hammer.”
Defending champion Alberto Contador and last year’s runner-up Andy Schleck, Frank’s younger brother, were among contenders who gained time on Armstrong.
In the overall standings, Cancellara leads second-place Thomas by 23 seconds and two-time Tour runner-up Evans by 39. Contador is ninth, 1:40 back, and Armstrong tumbled to 18th, 2:30 back. He had been fifth overall.