Live-Blogging the Armstrong Comeback: Verbier!

Sipping coffee this morning with Versus on the telly. The Tour de France should become a brutal slugfest in another hour or so, and we figured we'd tap out a few notes as it happens...

For some background, take a look at our recent posts on the great French race, or look at our full archives of the Armstrong comeback.

9:39 am: Uh-oh. We already don't like what we see. On the final warm-up before the Verbier, the Col des Mosses, Lance Armstrong has been hovering in the back end of the peloton. This might mean nothing, but we can't help feeling queasy over it. We're having flashbacks to 2006, when the first indication that Floyd Landis was going to have a horrible stage was the way he kept falling back in the peloton on early climbs.

But we also can't help thinking of Armstrong's own rope-a-dope tactics, when he faked out Jan Ullrich in a key stage one year by pretending to appear weak.

Breakaway and peloton now zooming down the other side of the Col.

9:50: Took us a few minutes to look up that Armstrong-Ullrich feint we were thinking of: Stage 11 of the 2001 tour, the climb to Chamrousse.

Breakaway is a little more than 4 minutes ahead, making Mikel Astarloza the "virtual yellow jersey on the road." Which means nothing, of course, with the Verbier still to come.

They're flying along on a flat road in a lovely Swiss valley.

10:03: Paul Sherwen figures that Astana will launch an all-out attack today, with Alberto Contador doing the damage. With several more days of high mountains to come, that would fit the Astana model: demoralize everyone else with a relentless early assault.

We'll see. For now we have to put up with a lot of commercials so Versus can go commercial-free on the climb itself. (At least it's not like the old days, when Versus - then Outdoor Life Network - only had like three different ads to play over and over and over. Amirite?)

10:13: Armstrong is back up at the front, says cyclingnews. That's good to hear. And now Versus shows its pre-race talk with him. "We let it get to eight minutes fifty. I think that speaks for itself," he says about the controversy around yesterday's stage. Lance acknowledges that there are a lot of hurt feelings, but "no way in hell" he was trying to keep George out of yellow.

10:25: 25K to go. Versus just cut to Matt White in the Garmin car. He seemed to indicate that two Garmin riders have been tasked with doing a sort of sprint leadout to the base of the Verbier climb. So we'll watch for that. For now, Liquigas and Astana are leading the peloton.

10:33: Simon Spilak, the Slovenian who just sprinted away from the breakaway, is just 23 years old. Last year, he placed 9th in Flanders, 12th in Paris-Nice, 5th in Three Days of De Panne, and 5th in the Tour of Slovenia. Seems like a pretty promising resume for a relatively new rider.

10:38: Phil just called Spilak Slovakian. But we're pretty sure he's Slovenian. There's a big difference!

10:43: Spilak spinning away nicely, Astarloza making his own attack, the rest of the breakaway a mess, but none of it matters for those waiting for the fireworks involving Armstrong and the rest of the overall leaders...

10:47: Ahhh, commercial free to the end. Thank you, Versus. Here we go!

10:50: Saxo Bank moving to the front of the peloton, getting Andy Schleck ready for a move. On tape, Armstrong called Verbier a "mini-Alpe d'Huez."

Garmin now making that move Matt White talked about. Just ate up the breakaway.

10:53: The mensch of the peloton, the guy we'd most like to have a beer with, Jens Voigt, now pounding away at the front for Saxo Bank. Looks like a very intense pace.

Voigt pulls off. He'd really worked it.

10:54: Nocentini seems to be keeping up so far, but he's not up with Armstrong and Contador.

Spilak should be picked up soon.

10:56: Hincapie dropping off the back, as we had assumed. It's a shame.

Sastre in trouble?

Astana picking up the pace!

10:58: Sastre gone. Nocentini gone. Here goes Contador!

11:00: Well, Lance is doing what he told us he would. He's playing the loyal teammate to Contador as Alberto goes up the road.

Andy Schleck is trying to catch Contador, but he doesn't look great.

11:01: Kloden is pacing Armstrong, with Frank Schleck, Vande Velde and Evans with him, all about 35 seconds behind Contador, who looks smooth. Andy Schleck is still trying to catch him, but he doesn't look fresh.

Sastre getting a second wind -- good for the defending champ!

11:03: Bradley Wiggins makes a move! A man no one was talking about before the race is having a terrific Tour.

Wiggins is caught, and now Frank Schleck is attacking, trying to catch up to his brother.

No answer from Armstrong.

11:06: Contador punching spectators getting too close to him! You'd hate to see that slow him down.

11:08: Sastre and Evans pull away from Armstrong! That will help them move up on Lance, but it's Contador they need to catch...

11:11: Sastre catching up to Wiggins and Frank Schleck. Great recovery by Carlos. But up ahead, Contador is just flying up the final kilometer. It's definitely his Tour now.

11:12: Andy Schleck finishes about 42 seconds behind Contador. Was that a smile or a grimace on his face?

11:14: Nocentini finishes about 2:30 down. Well, he did the yellow jersey proud while he had it.

11:17: Just waiting for the new GC now. Lance should be in second behind Contador, right? And now the new speculation will begin: can Lance overtake his teammate on Thursday's time trial?

11:29: "If I'm in pain, I know everyone else is." Great post-race words by Bradley Wiggins, the revelation of this year's tour. His teammate, Christian Vande Velde, fell back a few minutes again. He's being magnanimous about Wiggins, but he looks disappointed.

11:40: Wow. He's in second place, but Lance is saying that his chance for winning is over. Not what his fans want to hear.

11:45: Final thoughts: with more mountains, a time trial, and the legendary Ventoux still to come, is this race already over? Astana likes to think so. Seems a pity, though, that we're left only with the race for second and third place with so many great stages to go.


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