Lance Armstrong got mobbed by the media at the end of the stage to Pau. Not as the stage winner or the race leader like he had so many times but for what will probably go down in history as his last ever major attack in the mountains.
Armstrong was tired and nervous after finishing sixth and shouted at the media to holdback and give him room as he arrived at the RadioShack team bus. Like everyone, he had raced hard in the heat and humidity for 200km. He was disappointed not to have won one final stage in his final Tour de France.
Pierrick Fédrigo (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) proved to be the fastest in the sprint in Pau. Armstrong tried his hardest, following wheels and then fighting for the slipstream of Fédrigo and Cunego but then he hit out too early and faded before the sprint really began. He eased up in the final hundred metres and finished sixth, one place behind teammate Chris Horner.
There was no perfect swan song, no gifts from the other riders. Armstrong's palmares is set to show he won the Tour de France seven times and won a total of 25 stages (including three team time trials).
"It was a tough day. I paid for it at the end," he admitted.
"I warmed up a little bit before the race and it went right at kilometre zero. 200km at the front took it out of me. I had a no sprint at the end. But I tried."
He admitted he had been thinking about making an attack on this stage in the Pyrenees, knowing that the overall contenders would not let a break go away because of the long flat roads between the final climb and the finish in Pau.
"I had this day kind of dog-eared in the book but it was harder than I expected," he admitted. "I guess I felt better as the race went on. It was tough day for all the peloton. It was hard."
"It's been a while since I sprinted. We knew that Fédrigo was the fastest and then Cunego. We tried to catch his wheel. There were some questions whether or not we'd catch Barredo but I was just not quick enough."
Despite not winning the stage, Armstrong was proud to have made one final flourish, one last show of pride. The attack also meant RadioShack kept the lead in the team classification ahead of Caisse d'Epargne.
"We did what we wanted to do: we tried to win the stage. We maintained team GC and Chris Horner had an amazing race. Caisse d'Epargne had two guys there but that means we're equal on the day."
It was put to Armstrong that he had showed he is not over yet. His reply perfectly summed up the way he is feeling about his professional racing career and about Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France.
"Lance Armstrong is over in about four or five days," he said.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.