Blazin' Saddles

Vino killed the RadioShack star

Blazin' Saddles

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So ends the second coming of the Tour de France's most successful rider: shafted by bad luck, old age and the Astana team of Alexandre Vinokourov.

How can Saddles find humour in the fall of one of the sport's all time Titans? What can he say to console all those pained fans who took exception to BS's prediction that Lance would struggle not only to make the top 10 but to make it to Paris at all?

Only last week, one reader sent Saddles a tweet with the sarcastic rhetorical question: "It's fashionable to write off Armstrong, isn't it?" To which, Saddles replied: "Not so much fashionable as realistic."

And then what about the chap who snarled at Saddles' Tour prophecy with the tweet: "Just the fodder Armstrong will want in the big mountains isn't it?"

Well, "AndyFla", the big mountains arrived on Sunday with the climb to Avoriaz and the fodder was Armstrong - not any flippant comment made by one crass cycling blogger.

If Paul the octopus had been predicting stage eight, he would have sprayed ink all over Armstrong's mussel, scratched its shell and then spat it out onto the seabed. It was the single worst day in the American's career. Everything that could go wrong went wrong: two big crashes; almost a third after a couple of Euskaltel riders hit the deck fighting over a musette at the top of Les Gets.

But it's been like this since Armstrong made his return to cycling last year. Where before he was invincible - remember his uncanny avoidance of Joseba Beloki in 2003? - the older Lance has been unfortunate. The collar bone in 2009; the elbow and cheek in California; and now these freak incidents, the timing of which couldn't have been worse.

Any chance of Armstrong getting back into contention on the way to Avoriaz ended when Astana sniffed a trick and went for the jugular.

Vinokourov, Daniel Navarro, Paolo Tiralongo and Lance's former team-mate Alberto Contador set a blistering pace on the front once the RadioShack leader was dropped on the Col de la Ramaz. Contador clearly smelt payback for those unpleasant spats during last year's race.

As for Vino, he was almost toying with Armstrong, dropping back as if to mimic the Texan's fragility before collecting water from the Astana team car and ploughing back up to the leaders as if he were out for a Sunday afternoon training run.

On the descent to the foot of Les Gets, the Kazakh even broke clear as his efforts stretched the gap back to Armstrong, setting the scene perfectly for the seven-times champ's capitulation. It reminded Saddles of the time that the then five-times winner Miguel Indurain cracked on the way to Pamplona in his last, ill-fated Tour in 1996.

That said, even Big Mig "only" lost eight minutes that day; on Sunday, Armstrong surrendered almost 12. That's the kind of climbing return you expect from, say, Danilo Hondo or (it has to be said) the Cadel Evans of last July.

So, lying 39th overall and 13:26 off the pace of new yellow jersey Evans, Armstrong is the first to admit that his Tour is finished.

And yet, it could be said that his Tour has only just begun. The true test of Armstrong's credentials starts now: will the proud 38-year-old be willing to bite the bullet and complete his last Tour in the service of others or will he throw in the towel for the first time in his senior career?

It may not be as memorable as tying things up with another place on the podium in Paris, but perhaps the most fitting way for Armstrong to bow out of the sport will be as a super domestique to eighth-placed Levi Leipheimer (just 2:14 off the pace), taking on the role of those without whose help in the past all of his seven triumphs would have been just a dream.

A stage win would be the cherry on the cake as well - and even Armstrong's most fervent detractors wouldn't baulk at witnessing such an event.

Quote of the day #1: "When it rains it pours I guess. Quite banged but going to hang in here and enjoy my last two weeks. Congratulations to Andy and Cadel. Great rides by both from what I hear!" Armstrong shows that he still has a sense of humour despite his huge losses.

Quote of the day #2: "That's more bad luck for Lance in one week than in the other seven years all together." Johan Bruyneel reflects on events.

Word of the day: Footooned - adj. Similar to being harpooned but with a bike. Eg. A few years back Peter Andre was footooned by Jordan but thankfully he's now on the mend.

Rest day prediction: In a rare burst of serious reflection, Saddles predicts some deserved credit being doled out to Cadel Evans, whose stonking year continued with another jersey for his collection. Since disappointing in last year's Tour, the Australian has worn gold in the Vuelta, pink in the Giro, rainbows as World Champion and now yellow as leader of the Tour. Anyone with a clue who last achieved this superb accomplishment?

Plat du jour: The day off takes place in the Alps so we're just gorge on various platters involving melted cheese, pork-based slices, crusty bread, boiled potatoes and the odd pickled delight.

Peleton prattle: Which Spanish rider annoyed his Dutch mechanics by covering his handlebars with the Spanish colours ahead of the World Cup final?

Uses for Fabio Felline #1: a punch bag

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the Tour on www.twitter.com/saddleblaze.

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