Riblon leads as Armstrong struggles

Lance Armstrong was among the riders dropped as the Tour de France peloton entered the Pyrenees today.

Lance Armstrong was among the riders dropped as the Tour de France peloton entered the Pyrenees today.

Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) led the 97th Tour over the 15.5-kilometre hors categorie (beyond category) climb of Port de Pailheres on the 184.5km 14th stage from Revel to Ax-3-Domaines.

Riblon held a lead of 37 seconds over Amael Moinard (Cofidis) at the summit, with 2008 Tour champion Carlos Sastre among those in pursuit after attacking off the front of the peloton.

Riblon and Moinard were part of the day’s nine-man escape, which was stretched on the ascent.

As well as seven-time winner Armstrong (Team RadioShack), world champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) was struggling, while Briton David Millar (Team Garmin-Transitions) was back in the grupetto, the final group of stragglers.

With the 7.8km category one climb to the finish at Ax-3-Domaines to come, the expected showdown between yellow jersey incumbent Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) and two-time champion Alberto Contador (Astana) was yet to come to life.

Contador, who is seeking a third Tour title in four years, began the day seeking to overturn a 31-second deficit before the race reaches Paris next Sunday.

It was his Astana team which led the pursuit of the early breakaway, while Schleck – uncharacteristically for a man in the fabled maillot jaune – was seen back at his team car collecting provisions during the ascent of Port de Pailheres.

Armstrong, who is riding in his final Tour, began the race in Rotterdam on July 3 dreaming of an eighth title.

However, he endured a miserable day on the first Alpine stage, stage eight to Morzine-Avoriaz, finishing almost 12 minutes adrift.

He began today’s stage in 36th place, more than 25 minutes behind, with the margin set to increase

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