He’s won the Tour de France seven times, but don’t expect to see Lance Armstrong sporting the yellow jersey in Paris this year.
Armstrong dropped to fourth in the overall standings after placing fifth at Wednesday’s Stage 17. Astana teammate and leader Alberto Contador finished in the top group along with brothers Andy and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, who were able to seize second and third overall on the strength of their performance.
Contador and the Schlecks broke away from the pack near the end of the race, and the 37-year-old Armstrong simply couldn’t keep up.
"I couldn't find my acceleration to go with the other guys," Armstrong told ESPN.com. "I had to wait until it got steeper, when you knew you could definitely go away. I probably should have gone with the early acceleration."
Lance now has no realistic chance at winning his eighth Tour de France, as he is nearly four minutes behind Contador. But that comes as no surprise to Armstrong, who conceded after Stage 15 that Contador was the superior competitor this year.
"A day like this really shows who's the best, and I wasn't on par with what is required to win the Tour," Armstrong told ESPN.com on Sunday. "That's the reality; that's not devastating news or anything.
"This is a team sport. I think now is the time for me to put my chances aside, and focus on the team … There's been a lot of drama between Alberto and me … but at the end of the day, we sit as a team."
Though Armstrong is essentially out of the running for first, he still has a good chance to be standing on the podium after the final stage. Thursday’s Stage 19 race will be a short 25.2-mile time trial for which Armstrong is better suited than either of the Schleck brothers. At the Tour’s only other time trial, a 9.63-mile sprint in the opening stage, Armstrong finished 20 seconds ahead of Andy and almost a minute ahead of Frank.
With 1:29 currently the difference between him and second place, Lance believes he can still finish next behind Contador.
"Yes, it's still my goal,” he said. “I think it’s possible.”