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Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Safe to say, Lance has had better days

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Think you had a bad day on Thursday? Cheer up. It had to be better than Lance Armstrong's.

Armstrong's morning began on a street in Visalia, where he faced a throng of camera- and microphone-wielding reporters demanding his response to Floyd Landis' allegations that he doped when the two were on the U.S. Postal team. (It's always nice to wake up and face questions on national TV, isn't it?)

After answering the questions, Armstrong rode off to the rousing cheers of fans to begin Stage 5 of the Tour of California -- "We love you Lance!" -- only to soon crash in a major pileup that left him bloody and bruised. He attempted to continue riding, but was forced to abandon the race and go to the hospital for X-rays on his left elbow. The X-rays revealed a serious bruise but no fracture.

Lance Armstrong
Just hours after he talked to reporters about Floyd Landis' allegations, Lance Armstrong crashed out of the Tour of California on Thursday.

Questioned by the media, bruised and lacerated by the road, knocked out of competition ... about the only thing missing from this day of misery was a visit from the IRS.

"I tried to give it a go, but my eye was swollen so I couldn't see properly and the pain in the elbow prevented me from holding the bars for the remainder of the stage," Armstrong said in a team press release. "It was a relief to learn there were no breaks. I will take a few days to recover and be on the bike as soon as possible."

RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel said the Landis allegations did not distract Armstrong while riding. "Crashes happen. And if somebody crashed in front of you ... "

Before the X-rays came back, Bruyneel said a break would have been a problem for Armstrong riding in the Tour de France. Even though there was no fracture, it still is a costly injury that will reduce his training and competition opportunities in a season that has already been slowed. Armstrong, who was involved but uninjured in another crash during Wednesday's Stage 4, also acknowledged before the Tour of California that his form is not where he had hoped and he's had days when he has doubts about his chances in France.

Doctors stitched up the cuts under Armstrong's left eye, but the cyclist treated any wounds to his reputation on his own. He's adept after all the challenges to it over the years. Armstrong's fans surrounded the bus area when he spoke to the media and occasionally shouted their love and photograph requests. One held a sign that read "Lance 4 President" and another sign said, "Floyd Cheated!"

"If there was one word I could walk away with that sums this all up it's 'credibility,'" Armstrong said. "Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago.

"You've got someone who's been under oath with a completely different version, someone who wrote a book with a completely different version. You have someone who took money from people -- $1 million -- for a defense with a different version. He has said he has no proof. It's his word versus ours ... and we like our word."

Armstrong said he found it very sad his former teammate and friend has done this, adding that, at some point, everyone Landis implicated has cared about him. "At some point in time, we shared the bond that we all gave Floyd a ladder when he dug himself in a hole ... People aren't throwing him ladders anymore."

Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, which owns the Tour of California, said the Landis allegations are "juicy, [but] I have no clue whether any of it is true. I don't know whether Floyd's book is true. I don't know whether Floyd's testimony under oath is true. I don't know whether what he is saying now is true. All I know is that it can't all peacefully coexist. That is an impossibility. Some of it is a lie. We just don't know what part."

The five-year-old Tour of California shifted from February to May against the Giro d'Italia, and it has matched the much older Grand Tour stage for stage, dramatic finish for dramatic finish, world-class rider for world-class rider, postcard vista for postcard vista, and wine bottle for wine bottle. And it still has the most anticipated stages to go -- Friday's Stage 6 climb to Big Bear Lake at 8,000 feet and Saturday's time trial through downtown Los Angeles. The world's most famous cyclist won't compete in those stages now, but Bruyneel said he fully expects Landis to show up at one of the final stages. So they've got that going for them.

Besides, despite losing Armstrong, the Tour of California gained the final element necessary to officially make it a major stage race: a doping scandal.

"That's what someone with L'Equipe told me," Messick said. "He said, 'You're big enough now that they break news at your Tour.' I said, 'Well that's a silver lining.'"

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His website is at jimcaple.net.