BESANCON, France - Lance Armstrong was unfazed about slipping to fourth place at the Tour de France. Instead, he was riled that his former lieutenant, George Hincapie, was deprived of the yellow jersey - allegedly by a rival U.S. team.
Hincapie, the only man to be a teammate of Armstrong on all seven of his Tour victories, came within 5 seconds of the race lead in the 14th stage won Saturday by Russia's Serguei Ivanov.
The ride was marred by the death of a 61-year-old woman spectator after she was hit by an escorting police motorcycle while she crossed the course route. Two other fans were injured.
Columbia rider Hincapie finished the 124-mile stage from Colmar to Besancon in an 8-man group just 16 seconds after the Russian, who was 5 minutes, 36 seconds ahead of the main race contenders.
Starting the stage as the highest-placed rider in the breakaway group, 5:25 behind leader Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy, Hincapie had a shot to swipe the leader's yellow shirt.
Instead, as Armstrong and his Astana team claimed, the U.S. squad Garmin-Slipstream pressed the pace in a way that helped the Italian hold a slim lead over Hincapie.
Armstrong, on his Twitter feed, took aim at Garmin-Slipstream, which competes with Columbia for dibs as the top American squad at the Tour this year.
'No one wanted George in yellow more than me,' he tweeted.
'Until 10km (6.2 miles) to go he was solidly in yellow until GARMIN put on the gas and made sure it didn't happen,' Armstrong wrote.
Hincapie, 'deserves to be in yellow tonight. He deserves more than that,' he added.
French TV cameras showed Hincapie as he watched Nocentini's pack cross the finish line - and he harumphed in frustration that he had not garnered the yellow shirt.
'I don't know why you would do that with George at this stage of his career,' Columbia manager Bob Stapleton said.
'I mean that's a victory for everybody. That's something that would have gotten attention all over the U.S., that would have been good for the whole sport in America,' he said.
A Garmin spokeswoman didn't respond to calls from The Associated Press seeking comment after the stage.
For Armstrong, it was little matter that Hincapie's performance put him in second overall, bumping him and Astana teammate Alberto Contador each down a notch in the standings.
Contador, who too said he hoped Hincapie would take the race lead, dropped from second to third, but remains 6 seconds behind Nocentini. The Texan fell from third to fourth, 8 seconds back.
Sentiment aside, Hincapie in yellow would have meant that his powerful Columbia team would take on the tough job of protecting the race lead in today's 15th stage - the first ride in the Alps and a likely pivot point for the overall race standings. Astana, with its big stars, could let Columbia do the work of leading the pack.
Astana doesn't consider Hincapie a threat for overall Tour victory when the race ends next Sunday in Paris. He isn't expected to fare as well as Contador and Armstrong in the Alps or in a critical individual time trial in and near Annecy in Thursday's Stage 18.
'Garmin just wanted to prevent another American team from taking the yellow jersey. It's not right,' Astana manager Johan Bruyneel said. 'It's not very sporting.
'It's a story that I think will continue,' he said.
'Given the history we have with George, I would have liked him to take the jersey - but independent of that, I don't think it was a fair way of racing,' he added.
Columbia sustained a second blow Saturday: its star sprinter, Mark Cavendish of Britain, was fined and penalized by Tour officials for blocking his rival Thor Hushovd in a final sprint. The two men are competing for the green jersey awarded to the Tour's best sprinter.
Cavendish was demoted to last place in the stage, vastly denting his hopes of taking home the green jersey by depriving him of points he could have gained in the discipline. Hushovd has the green jersey.
For Ivanov, the day was much more fulfilling. He made a sign of the cross as he finished in 4 hours, 37 minutes, 46 seconds after escaping the breakaway group with 6.8 miles left.
The 34-year-old Russian national champion, who also won a Tour stage in 2001, splayed out on a curb after finishing so he could catch his breath.
'It's an amazing victory,' he said, explaining in English his retreat to the curb. 'I didn't have any more air. I was just 2 minutes, breathing, breathing ... I was very tired.
'I gave all my energy on the last 10 k's. '
Ivanov rose to 56th place overall, 27:47 behind Nocentini. The Russian had entered the day's stage in 62th place, 33:23 back.
The race moves into the Alps for Sunday's 15th stage, a 128.9-mile ride from Pontarlier, France, to the Swiss ski station of Verbier.
Strong climbers will be the riders to watch, including two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia, 2008 Tour champion Carlos Sastre of Spain, and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.
Schleck is 1:49 behind Nocentini, who is not seen as a title threat, while Sastre is 2:52 back and Evans trails by 3:07. Astana senses it's now or never for them to make their move - or not at all.
'I think Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans and Sastre have to attack,' Bruyneel said. 'If they don't attack tomorrow I don't know when they're going to attack.'