VERBIER, July 20 – Lance Armstrong has admitted he may have to wave goodbye to his bid for an eighth yellow jersey on the Tour de France after being left for dust by teammate Alberto Contador.Armstrong was left suffering early on the 8.8km climb to Verbier, on which Contador launched a decisive attack that has singled him out as Astana’s best chance of winning the race.
The 37-year-old American said afterwards Contador had proved that he is the "strongest rider in the race".
And he indicated that it would now be difficult for him to aim for an eighth Tour crown.
"When Alberto went he showed he is the best rider, showed he is the best climber. You know when everyubody is on their limits and you can accelerate again, that’s how you win the Tour. Hats off to him," said Armstrong.
"I think after today he demonstrated he is the strongest in the race. I thought I’d feel a little bit better, I didn’t.
"There is no point messing around. I gave everything I had and I wasn’t the best.
"There has been a lot of drama about Alberto and me, especially in the media, but at the end of the day we all sit around the table, around the teammates, and the last thing we can do is to lose the Tour.
"I’m gonna do my best and be a solid teammate."
The 15th stage provided the first real yellow jersey drama since the seventh stage ride to Arcalis in the Pyrenees, where Contador attacked Armstrong to steal back 19secs on the American.
Now with a 1:37 lead on Armstrong, who is second overall, Contador would be expected to have Astana’s full commitment as he bids to win the race for the second time.
However the 26-year-old Spaniard, who has endured a difficult two weeks’ co-habitation with the world’s most famous bike rider, stopped short of making those demands.
"We’ve taken a big step but the last week is difficult, and I expect there will be a lot more to come from the rivals who were there today," said Contador.
"For me it’s an honour that he (Armstrong) said what he did. He’s a big professional. Now everyone in the team has to work for the one same goal."
As Contador flew towards victory after his attack 5.6km from the summit, Armstrong was left with Astana teammate Andreas Kloden to help him ward off attacks from rivals in other teams.
But in the closing kilometres the unexpected happened: Armstrong was left with the German as Bradley Wiggins, Frank Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali and defending Tour champion Carlos Sastre all raced away from him.
The American, who in his seven year reign was more used to leaving rivals in his wake, finished the stage 1:35 down on Contador, and 29secs behind Wiggins, Schleck and Sastre.
Armstrong admitted he had suffered from the pace that Schleck’s Saxo Bank team had set early on the climb, which was designed to eliminate as many contenders as possible.
"I suffered. It was very hard. I was a little bit on the limit at the bottom, I think everybody was a bit on the limit," said Armstrong.
"Andreas tried to minimise the losses, but I suffered."
And he said he believed his chances of an eighth Tour title could be over.
"Yes, it will be hard," added Armstrong.
"Days like this really shows who’s the best. For me that’s reality, that’s not devastating news or anything."
But while Armstrong may be prepared to work for Contador, the American, who it is rumoured is set to launch a new team based around himself, hinted he would be back stronger in 2010.
"Their might be people out there that expect me to ride like I did in 2004-2005, that’s not reality," added Armstrong.
"If I do another year, and I get a season under my belt, maybe get that race condition back. But right now, I didn’t have it."