Armstrong defends yellow as Pereiro wins stage

20th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PAU, France, July 19 (AFP) - Lance Armstrong continued his countdown to an imminent seventh consecutive yellow jersey here on the Tour de France 16th stage Tuesday after coolly countering a brief attack by German rival Jan Ullrich.

PAU, France, July 19 (AFP) - Lance Armstrong continued his countdown to an imminent seventh consecutive yellow jersey here on the Tour de France 16th stage Tuesday after coolly countering a brief attack by German rival Jan Ullrich.

Armstrong began the day with a 2min 46sec lead on Italian Ivan Basso, of the CSC team, with 1997 race winner Ullrich in fourth place, behind Michael Rasmussen, at nearly six minutes adrift of the six-time winner.

After Tuesday's stage - the last real chance for any of his rivals to claw back time in the mountains - Armstrong's lead held firm as all the contenders finished in the peloton a few minutes after Spaniard Oscar Pereiro took the stage win ahead of three breakaway rivals.

Pereiro, who had been beaten to the finish by American George Hincapie on the most difficult Pyrenean stage on Sunday, encountered what appeared to be a puncture on the descent of the Aubisque col shortly after he had overtaken stage leader Cadel Evans of Australia.

It turned out that a stone had found its way between his wheel and bike frame, but despite his short stoppage to resolve the problem he caught up with Evans who in turn had been joined by Italian Eddy Mazzoleni and Spaniard Xabier Zandio as they raced towards the day's last medium-sized climb.

Evans had enraged his 11-strong group of breakaway companions by attacking eight kilometres from the Aubisque summit, but went on to lose his advantage and then practically led the four stage leaders into the finish at Pau.

The Aussie, who is aiming for a top ten finish on the race, was never likely to win a sprint finish and it was no surprise that Pereiro popped out from behind his wheel with 200 metres to go to claim the win he has been after for the past week.

"I came into the race hoping for a good result in the general classification but the first week was very difficult for me, and a lot of riders had the same idea," said Pereiro, who finished 10th overall last year.

"So after I spoke to (teammate) Santiago Botero who I've been working for here and he said it was fine for me to go for a stage win."

Armstrong meanwhile spent a blissful day in the saddle, which included the final Col of the race, and of his career - the 16.5 km long and unclassified-rated Aubisque.

Ullrich had attacked, more likely in a bid to see if he could steal any time from Rasmussen and Basso, in the top part of the climb. However the German's progress was kept in check - both by the conditions, and Armstrong.

"I tried to attack at the top of the Aubisque, and looked back a couple of times to see if I had any chance of taking a lead," explained Ullrich.

"But there was a bit of a headwind and I saw that Armstrong didn't look too bad. But I'll still be fighting all the way to Paris."

Armstrong affirmed that Ullrich would not have got very far anyway.

"I have to be honest and say that was probably my best day on the bike," said the American, who after the race pulled on the yellow jersey for the 78th time. After Wednesday's stage, Armstrong will equal French legend Bernard Hinault's 79 days in the race leader's tunic.

"I don't know why, I don't have an explanation for it but I was just totally confident and the team was very strong.

"I know that from time to time we joke about (riding as if there is) no chain on the bike. Today, there was no chain."

As Armstrong was coolly soaking up any of the pressure, at the front Evans had upset his breakaway companions by attacking around eight kilometres from the summit of the Aubisque.

Despite being a threat to those riders aiming for a top ten finish, he managed to slip into the group which had formed early in the stage.

They had been hoping to build a solid lead on the chasing bunch in a bid to contend the stage victory among themselves, and so Evans' presence was rather unwelcome.

However the 27-year-old former mountain bike champion decided not to stay with them anyway. His speedy attack left his group trailing, and he eventually raced over the summit with a 48-second lead on Pereiro, with Lampre's Mazzoleni not far behind.

Nevertheless, the Aussie has now made a potential 10 foes.

Germany's Jorg Ludewig, who rides for Domina Vacanze, explained that Evans' tactics had not been to their liking at all.

"Evans' tactics were out of order," Ludewig told reporters.

"He's lost a potential 10 allies after that stunt. None of us were very happy about it. I certainly won't be talking to him."

Evans' victory chances were always going to be slim, and when Pereiro caught up with him again after his earlier problem, the Spaniard looked the most likely to prevail.


Subject: French news

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