Lance Armstrong looked frustrated. Maybe even ticked off. He was itching to follow the decisive attacks on the final climb of Monte Petrano when his team-mate Levi Leipheimer cracked. Lance kept turning around, expecting, praying that Levi would pull himself up, but it never happened. After an initial surge forward, Lance was forced to slow down and babysit Leipheimer, who picked a terrible day to have a bad day. Carlos Sastre won the stage with Menchov and Di Luca closing fast but Leipheimer lost almost 3 minutes and all hope of a podium.
It must have been a bitter experience for Armstrong, who was clearly on form and raring to challenge Menchov, Di Luca and Basso. A hundred dollars to know what conversations passed between Levi and Lance. Hard to say what’s more painful for Leipheimer: losing the Giro or letting down Lance. It was a surprising collapse for Levi who spoke with confidence only days earlier about his good form and energy level.
At the base of the Monte Petrano, Astana appeared to be in a strong position with Popovych alone up the road and Lance and Levi well-positioned. No doubt the hope was that Leipheimer would make his move, distance the main rivals and pick up Popovych for extra help in the final kilometers. A great plan except for the missing ingredient: Levi’s legs. Until the last 3k, Popovych had a stage win in his sights before he was swamped by the charging Sastre and company. A bad day for Astana, especially considering that they haven’t been paid, either.
The decision for Johan Bruyneel now is whether to free Lance Armstrong from his domestique duties. With Levi out of the podium picture and Lance ready to attack, we should see fireworks soon or at least more agressive tactics. Lance isn’t used to waiting for anyone. Not Levi and certainly not after today.