Lance Armstrong came oh-so-close to the Tour de France stage win he's been yearning for in his final appearance, and one could still come with four racing days left. The seven-time Tour champion ruled himself out of contention 10 days ago after struggling in the first Alpine challenge, and he's looking forward to retirement when the race ends in Paris on Sunday.
But Armstrong's coach says the American could win a stage. "It's not yet finished," said Johan Bruyneel, manager of Armstrong's RadioShack team and the man who coached him during all his victories from 1999 to 2005. "There's a single (mountain) stage left on Thursday ... we're going to try again," said Bruyneel, who also has coached the winner in nine of the last 11 Tours -- including Spaniard Alberto Contador in 2007 and 2009.
Heading into the final rest day on Wednesday, Armstrong finished a respectable -- even impressive -- sixth in Stage 16 on Tuesday by keeping up with and at times leading a breakaway bunch that got out early in the 124-mile trek up four nasty Pyrenean peaks.
Tuesday's stage, which featured a 40-mile ride down from the Aspin pass, wasn't suited for a possible Armstrong win as long as he was surrounded by other -- and mostly younger -- riders.
After a plodding day of climbs, his 38-year-old legs weren't ready to battle the final bunch sprint won by France's Pierrick Fedrigo.
"It was full-gas all day," said Armstrong. "It's been awhile since I sprinted ... Just not quick enough. I'm not the best guy in the race but I still have the spirit of a fighter."
The main race contenders, including overall leader Contador and his closest rival, Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, trailed deep in the main pack that crossed nearly 7 minutes after Armstrong's breakaway band. Because the Texan was over 40 minutes back of Contador as the stage began, and none of the other's who sprinted ahead were in close range, the Spaniard and his biggest challengers didn't lay chase. Armstrong's now 33:46 back, in 25th place -- up from 31st.