Live-Blogging the Armstrong Comeback: Ventoux!

Well, this is what we've all been waiting for.

For the first time ever, the final Saturday in a Tour de France features a high mountain climb, and what a climb! Mont Ventoux is about to begin, and we're ready: we have our coffee and the race playing on Versus.

When this course was announced last fall, we knew this would be a giant of a day.

So we note with some disappointment that third place is all that seems to be at stake. Still! This should be a great day, and one never knows what will happen.

The climb is approaching, and Astana is whipping up the peloton. Bring on the attacks!

9:22 Versus did a typically great job this morning setting up the situation. Best moment: when Frankie Andreu asked Andy Schleck whether he'll be worried about Lance Armstrong trying to take away second place from him. The youngster replied that it's Armstrong who should be worried. That's the spirit!

With first place probably out of reach, the top riders will be thinking "podium." It means a lot to be standing on that platform in Paris, and that's why a race for third place is a bigger deal in cycling (or horse racing!) than it might be in American sports.

The Schlecks, therefore, will be looking to get Frank into third next to Andy in second. But Astana no doubt dreams of a Contador-Armstrong-Kloden podium. Keeping that in mind might explain how some of the attacks go in a few minutes...

9:35 Juan Manuel Garate, Christophe Riblon, and Tony Martin have pulled themselves from the larger breakaway. But with only a little more than 3 minutes back to the strongmen, they should get eaten up before too long. 

Good crowds for so low on the climb. How many are hardy enough to be up near the top?

9:41 As the climb begins, let's see who has the most to win, or lose:

2. Andy Schleck  (more than four minutes behind Contador)
3. Lance Armstrong  1:10 behind Schleck
4. Bradley Wiggins   0:15 behind Armstrong
5. Andreas Kloden    0:02 behind Wiggins
6. Frank Schleck     0:21 behind Kloden

9:50 Frank Schleck makes the first push, and Lance covers him right away. And Frank kicks a second time. This should start to rip up the group of leaders.

But it's early. They're still in the trees.

Now Andy is pushing. Oh, we love the Schlecks.

9:52 This is interesting - Andy pushed, but Frank held back. That forced Armstrong to catch up, but Andy leapt away again.

At this point, the Schleck strategy appears to be more about getting Andy over Lance for second place than getting Frank on the podium?

10:02 Kloden back with Armstrong in the group now fighting for third place, now that they've let Andy Schleck and Contador go up the road. As riders like Nibali and Van den Broek make their own moves, we keep in mind that they have opportunities to move up several spots as well.

We're still in the trees - so much more to go!

10:05 Love the campers by the side of the road. Gotta do that some year. I'd love to hear about the logistics of that: where folks pick them up, how they get those prime spots on the mountain, etc. Looks like fun.

More power from Andy! He may be too far behind Alberto to take yellow, but you have to give him credit for trying.

10:09 Phil keeps saying that Frank Schleck is having a bad day, based on his lack of attacks and the look on the rider's face. But he only needs a 38-second gap to take over Armstrong's third place position. That's something he could gain in a attack with only a kilometer to go, or less, right? No need for heroics yet.

10:14 Leaders back together. Lance looking great. Only three riders up the road - is Lance tempted to go for the Ventoux win that has eluded him?

10:18 The Schlecks are making their big move. This is what they've been waiting to do. Kloden out the back. But Contador and Lance ride them down. Amazing.

10:20 Pelizotti is doing the polka dot jersey proud! Farther back, the Schlecks can't shake Lance and Alberto. Nibali and Wiggins falling back, then pulled up to the group again.

10:23 Can't help wondering if Contador is tempted to attack - but learned his lesson from the Columbiere, when he hurt his teammate, Kloden, with an acceleration. He wouldn't do that today to Armstrong... It would be up to Lance to go.

10:27 If I ever get to the Tour, and I'm standing in a place like this, the temptation to slug one of these idiots running along with the riders will be fierce...

Andy tried to attack but a motorcycle in the way!

10:31 Garate going for the stage win over Martin! We have a Spanish stage winner, and soon a Spanish Tour winner.

10:32 Lance had a great race and a great Tour - a podium finish after three years off is amazing. But it's hard for us to be as excited as Phil over the mighty battle for fourth place! Props to Wiggins, however, one of the two revelations of Tour 2009, the other one being the great young Belgian hope, Van Den Broeck.

So on to the ceremonial parade tomorrow, and the crowning of Contador.

For what it's worth, that's 9 Spanish championships over the last 19 Tours (Indurain 5, Contador 2, Sastre, Perreiro). The others are Lance's seven (USA!), and one each for Germany (Ullrich), Denmark (Riis), and Italy (Pantani). 


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