It was a black day for the RadioShack team. In the words of manager Johan Bruyneel, "Everything that could go wrong went wrong." Lance Armstrong went down three times during the stage: first, after six kilometres raced, where he did not suffer any damage and was able to get back to the bunch quickly.
Then, a few kilometres before the Cat. 1 Ramaz climb, he crashed again and this time hurt himself, putting him in trouble on the decisive ascent. A third tumble, due to an Euskaltel rider in front of him with 21 kilometres to the finish, topped off a day that the Texan will surely want to forget: it put an end to his chances of an eighth Tour de France victory.
"It's definitely the end of the Tour de France, the end of Lance's objective to win this Tour," Bruyneel said in the finish in Avoriaz. "He got held up in the beginning, then he really crashed badly 10 kilometres before the Ramaz climb. He was in difficulty on the Ramaz afterwards."
Armstrong lost one minute on top of the Ramaz climb, and never managed to come back - despite the help of his teammates Chris Horner, Janez Brajkovic and Yaroslav Popovych. "Lance crashed again before the last climb in a roundabout, so we pulled really hard to come back with him," Popovych told Cyclingnews at the finish. "We did like eight kilometres à bloc to come back with Lance, but it was useless. It's a very bad day for Radio Shack."
To Bruyneel, the reason Armstrong had to drop off the favourites' bunch was an injury to the American's hip suffered in the second crash. "Physically, before the race, there was no indication to say that he would find it hard - to the contrary, his ambition today was to race in front. On the last climb, he told me that he banged his hip badly and that it was impossible for him to put out maximal power.
"On the third category climb [the last climb before the final ascent to Avoriaz], he crashed again. It was like everything had to go wrong today."
Matthew Lloyd from Davitamon-Lotto was in Armstrong's group and witnessed that last crash. "Unfortunately, Lance crashed, there were again lots of crashes today," he said post-race. "Euskaltel really needs to learn how to ride bikes. It's just shocking. I don't know whether that's controversial or not, but I don't care. They've probably caused every crash in this race... It's really unfortunate for Lance because he wanted to finish this Tour de France in style, and now..."
The third crash indeed was caused by two riders from the Basque team. Egoi Martinez handed a food bag to his teammate Ivan Velasco, who lost control of his bike, taking down Armstrong with him. Perhaps Tour rookie Velasco was not paying enough attention, as his wife gave birth the night before to their first child, a baby boy, born prematurely at seven months.
In any case, that last crash literally made Armstrong "give up", according to his team director. "He gave up because he already lost time when he punctured on the pavé, he lost time in the crashes today. It would have been very hard to come back as the race was just getting off during that moment, and the bunch certainly didn't wait. On the Ramaz, he saw that it was impossible because of his hip injury.
"It was sad to see that. But it's the race," Bruyneel said.