Contador, Armstrong hailed

PARIS: Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme gave the thumbs-up to the influence of Lance Armstrong on this year’s race after the American came out of retirement to finish a commendable third overall.

Armstrong finished over five minutes behind Astana teammate Alberto Contador, who proved unbeatable over three weeks of tough racing on his way to his second victory since his maiden win in 2007. However on more than one occasion the 37-year-old seven-time champion showed that his sense for racing is still up there with the best. When Armstrong used his head and his legs in testing wind conditions on stage three to join an echelon created by the Columbia team — which left many of his rivals, including Contador, 41secs behind — it put his race ambitions on full display.

The next day when Astana won the team time trial Armstrong just missed out on pulling on the yellow jersey by 0.22secs. “He has tactical intelligence, and is always where he needs to be in the race,” purred Prudhomme. “He is someone who is dangerous on all kinds of stages.”

Contador, however, was not left out. He showed his all-round talent by winning on one of the race’s three summit finishes, controlling his rivals on all the mountains stages and winning the second time trial. But faced with uncertainties over whether he or Armstrong would lead Astana’s yellow jersey bid the Spaniard also showed steely determination. “He’s a great climber, whose style is elegant and fluid,” said Prudhomme.

Prudhomme is looking forward to next year when Armstrong, Contador and second place finisher Andy Schleck are set to return for a three-way battle for the yellow jersey.