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Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) would finish 10th on stage 9.
Armstrong seeks stage victory in final Tour
Lance Armstrong and his RadioShack team bounced back from their bad day on the stage to Morzine-Avoriaz, with a solid ride by both Levi Leipheimer and Armstrong over the Col de la Madeleine on stage nine.
Leipheimer initially tried to stay with Alberto Contador (Astana) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) but wisely backed off and finished tenth in Saint Jean de Maurienne, at 2:07. He finished in the same time as Rabobank teammates Roberto Gesink and Denis Menchov, and Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), who had been in the day's long breakaway.
Armstrong looked much stronger after the first rest day. He was distanced by the Contador and Schleck attacks but finished 18th on the stage, in a small group at 2:50, that also included Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo).
With Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) losing almost five minutes, Leipheimer became the best placed North American rider. Leipheimer is now sixth overall at 3:59. Hesjedal is 12th at 5:42 and Armstrong is 31st at 15:54. Leipheimer knows he can time trial much better than several of the riders above him and so a place on the podium is still a very realistic objective.
"I tried to stay there a little too long with Alberto and Andy. I paid for that on the climb. I suffered all the way up," Leipheimer said.
"Luckily I found a good group with the Rabobank guys Gesink and Menchov. They had to work together and thankfully I was able to hitch on to their wagon. I felt better and better on the flat at the end and I felt strong again. That's a good sign."
Armstrong feeling better
Lance Armstrong was pleased to be back in the front group selection that formed on the Madeleine and was only blown apart when Contador and Schleck attacked.
"I feel better. Better than I thought I would, certainly, and better than two days ago. I guess the rest day was good. I felt better than I did the other day so that was a good sign," he said.
"I find myself in the position that I was trying to get Levi up to the front. I was there with two other guys who want to get to the podium, with Van Den Broeck and Basso. But I wasn't exactly ready to jump away either.
"The Madeleine is a hard climb. At the end of the day it's 25 kilometres and it's steep. You're up 2,000 metres, it's just hard. That’s a legitimate climb, the hardest climb we've done this year. There’s no hiding from the Madeleine on either side."
A final Tour stage victory
Armstrong reiterated that he is now looking for a stage victory as a way to salvage what is his final ever Tour de France.
"You've got to look for opportunity and at the same time you've got to have the power. If I keep progressing and keep getting better and better, I'll get there," he said. "Most important is that I leave with a good attitude. I've had bad luck and I know that I can't change that. But I've had seven years with hardly a flat, hardly a crash. It’s logical that luck catches up with you. I wish I could change it but I can't. I just have to hold my head high, ride for the team and go out having fun."
Asked who is the new boss of the peloton and who will go on to win this Tour de France in a probable duel between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, Armstrong said: "The verdict is still out. I guess that means wait and see."
Armstrong is confident that Leipheimer can perhaps find a place on the final podium with Contador and Schleck.
"He has the good fortune of knowing that he has 50 kilometres at the end to use his position and use his power. He'll be good in the last time trial. We're strong as a team and we'll be trying to help him as much as we can."