This was only his second Grand Tour stage win – he took one at the Vuelta a Espana in 2008.
Armstrong was his inspiration a decade ago and was invited back by Thomas to ride on the roads of the Tour.
One mountain range completed, one more to go.
Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez has won the 195km 12th stage of the Tour de France, a gruelling trek in the Pyrenees as Chris Froome retained the overall lead after holding off his rivals on the final climb.
Asked what he thought of comments condemning his participation, he said: “Why shouldn’t I be here?” “We’ve just got to expect everything to be thrown at us”.
Sky manager Dave Brailsford has been at pains to try to demonstrate that his team is clean but, like Froome, he said the suspicions were to be expected. And that is a problem.
He was briefly at the front of a small lead bunch, before Sky regained control.
Rodriguez was part of a group of 22 riders – none of them podium contenders – that broke away shortly after the start in Lannemezan, a Pyrenees town of 6,500 inhabitants, whose signature dishes include black Bigorre pork and an almond cake named after bandits. The Spaniard picked off his opponents in the 15.8-kilometer ascent at Plateau de Beille to take the win.
World champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) had seemed to be performing under-par early in the race, but was prominent until the day’s final climb, when he was caught and overtaken by Rodriguez. He celebrated by waving a pointed finger like John Travolta dancing in “Saturday Night Fever“, and thrust both arms in the air.
Quintana finished just over a minute behind Froome to leave him third overall at 3min 09sec – maybe be leave he is the only rider with any chance of denying Froome a second Tour crown. A Tour doctor then patched him up on the move, wrapping his wounds in bandages as Peraud gripped onto the speeding medical vehicle.
Quintana, who was welcomed like a king stepping out of his palace as he exited the Movistar bus before stage 12, “does not know fear”, according to his team.
Nairo Quintana stayed third, 3:09 adrift as the top of the general classification remained unchanged, with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) still fifth, 4:03 back. “I’m a van Garderen fan”.
“I wish Geoff Thomas and the guys all the best in raising as much money as they can”, said Froome. “He’s human like the others”.
Skeptics aren’t so sure.
Many seasoned race observers say it will be tough for Froome’s main rivals to topple him before the race ends on Paris’ Champs-Elysees on July 26.
Stripped of his seven Tour titles for doping, Armstrong was riding Thursday and Friday in France in an event aimed to help fight blood cancer.
The charity, organised by former England football worldwide Geoff Thomas, aims to raise money for leukaemia research.
As might have been expected Armstrong used the occasion to make the point that he feels he has been unfairly excluded from the Tour, when other former drug-takers such as Richard Virenque are prominent working for media and sponsors. Those stages take the Tour on a west-to-east swing.