CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - Lance Armstrong zipped past ChiAfA..vres Air Base July 6, hoping to claim his eighth Tour de France title down the road.

Military families and locals lined Rue d'Ath as he and dozens of other riders traveled through the cities of Lens, Brugelette and ChiAfA..vres during stage 3 of the coveted 2,263-mile bicycle race.

The race began in Rotterdam July 3 and continued through Brussels. During stage 2 when riders met the hills of the Ardennes, they also met the pavement.

"What a day...crashes everywhere, and I don't use the term 'everywhere' lightly," Armstrong posted on his July 5 Twitter page. "Most of the GC [general classification] guys hit the ground myself included.

"Got some good 'road rash' on the hip and elbow. Bike mangled, cleat on the shoe completely cracked in two. Hope it's dry tomorrow," he posted.

His weather wish came true, but that didn't make stage 3 any easier. The route included more than eight miles of cobblestone roads, so it was predicted to be one of the most challenging stages of the race.

As riders began the day in Wanze, Belgium, around 12:30 p.m., people started gathering along the Rue d'Ath.

The Eisbachs, a U.S. Air Force family stationed at SHAPE, marked their spot near the historic Belgian fighter jet that rests in the traffic circle near the city of ChiAfA..vres.

Four-year-old Noah and 7-year-old Levi were ready. They had a juice pouch in one hand, a camera in the other, and their bright yellow "Live Strong" and "Go Team Radio Shack" signs were standing by.

Next to them was Christian Grange, a Belgian from Brugelette. The former sergeant in the Belgian military was stationed at ChiAfA..vres Air Base in 1963.

Grange hoped to see Armstrong, too, but he was also looking out for Spain's Alberto Contador and Luxembourg brothers Andy and FrAfA$nk Schleck.

Although Grange had seen a few Tour de France races, this was a first for the Eisbachs. Natalie Eisbach said she had one expectation: "Seven seconds of excitement."

After weeks of logistical coordination between Belgian and U.S. officials and hours of waiting on race day, Natalie's seven seconds came and went.

The pack of cyclists whooshed by like a graceful summer breeze, but amidst the symmetry, fans wondered if they saw their star. They glanced at their digital cameras, scrolled through photos and questioned whether they captured Lance.

Armstrong finished stage 3 in 18th place, 2 minutes and 30 seconds behind leader Fabian Cancellara from Switzerland.

However, in Stage 8, Armstrong wrecked again and slipped to 39th place. According to media reports, he said his hopes for a 2010 victory are over.

The Tour de France concludes in Paris July 25. Take a trip to the finish line with SHAPE Trips & Tours. Call DSN 423-3884 or civilian 065-44-3883 for more information.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16