On a day when the overall contenders positioned themselves for the final two weeks of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong was nowhere to be found.
The 38-year old Texan got caught up in three crashes, falling once, and was left behind by the peloton during a crucial climb 31 miles from the Stage 8 finish in Morzine-Avoriaz, a ski station on the French-Swiss border.
When Armstrong finally crossed the finish line, accompanied by teammates, he was 13 minutes and 26 seconds behind new race leader Cadel Evans of Team BMC.
In a race where every second matters, it was a devastating blow to Armstrong’s hopes of winning a record eighth Tour de France.
“My Tour's finished," Armstrong told reporters after the race. "But I'm not going to complain. This is just a bad day."
Evans in yellow
It proved to be a great afternoon on the bike for his rivals, especially Evans and SaxoBank’s Andy Schleck.
The 25-year old Luxembourger, regarded as a potential Tour winner, jumped away from the bunch in the last kilometer to win the stage. He moved into second place overall, just 20 seconds behind Evans.
“I believed this morning that this stage would be a deciding one and I was very nervous,” admitted Schleck in a post-race press conference. “It’s fantastic; I’m happy with my win.”
Heading into tomorrow’s rest day, the first of two 24-hour breaks during the three-week race, it’s the Australian, Evans, who has the most to celebrate. He’s wearing the yellow for the first time since the 2008 Tour.
But he and Schleck will have to be vigilant when racing resumes again Tuesday. Defending champion Alberto Contador, whose Astana team set the difficult tempo that dropped Armstrong today, is just over a minute off the pace.
No parting gifts
For someone who is riding in his last Tour de France, Armstrong is not receiving many parting gifts.
In addition to today’s rough ride, he lost significant time last week after puncturing a tire on the cobblestones in northeast France during last Tuesday’s Stage 3.
"I'm not going home — we'll stay in the race and we'll keep trying," he said then.
The same could be said today for Team RadioShack’s hopes during the rest of this year’s Tour, which ends July 25 in Paris.
Though Armstrong won’t be riding for the general classification anymore, the team still has an opportunity for yellow: American Levi Leipheimer is in eighth place overall; it’s expected that Armstrong will assist him.