Armstrong regains yellow jersey in first Alps day

12th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

COURCHEVEL, France, July 12 (AFP) - Lance Armstrong regained firm control of the Tour de France and the yellow jersey here Tuesday on a gruelling first day in the Alps which left all of his main rivals trailing.

COURCHEVEL, France, July 12 (AFP) - Lance Armstrong regained firm control of the Tour de France and the yellow jersey here Tuesday on a gruelling first day in the Alps which left all of his main rivals trailing.

Alejandro Valverde, of the Baleares team, won the 10th stage held over 192.5km between Grenoble after beating Armstrong in a two-man race for the finish line - and the American was sporting enough to shake the young Spaniard's hand immediately afterwards.

Overnight race leader Jens Voigt, of the CSC team, finished well off the pace on a first day in the Alps which featured two category one climbs and the first summit finish of the race.

Germany's 1997 winner Jan Ullrich came over the finish line among a group of riders at around 2min 20sec behind Armstrong and is now over four minutes behind his American rival.

Italian Ivan Basso, of the CSC team, came in at just over a minute behind while Ullrich's T-Mobile teammate Alexandre Vinokourov also fell away on the 21km climb to the alpine ski station, the Kazakh finishing almost five minutes behind.

Armstrong, who began the day in third place overall at 2:18 behind Voigt, now has firm control of the race ahead of Wednesday's second day in the Alps where the first unclassified climbs of the race await his challengers.

"It was the first big day for our team," said Armstrong whose Discovery Channel team were found wanting last week in the Vosges when they left him dangerously exposed.

"They're a super team and set a great pace for me at the front of the climb. I had good legs today, but I want to say thanks to (Michael) Rasmussen, Valverde and (Francisco) Mancebo - without them I might not have got the result I wanted."

Armstrong now leads Rasmussen by 38 secs, Basso by 2:20 and Frenchman Christophe Moreau by 2:42.

And he admitted his team had been out to erase their sorry performance of last week.

"We have a tough team with a lot of pride. They're professionals," said Armstrong.

After benefiting from the work of his Discovery Channel team for most of the day, the 33-year-old American came into his own in the final 15 km of the 21km climb to the summit finish of Courchevel.

By the time they had completed a few kilometres of the day's second climb, Armstrong decided it was time to take over the operation.

His furious pace up the category one climb had devastating effects. Despite their efforts, it left Ullrich, Vinokourov and Basso all struggling and one by one they fell out of contention.

Armstrong is now in pole position to finish the Tour in the yellow jersey, but despite his evident confidence he warned the race is far from over.

"We're in a good position as compared to some of the main rivals - but there's still a lot of racing to go. We have another day in the Alps, a transition stage then two very tough days in the Pyrenees, then the final time trial.

"We'll have to race smart," said Armstrong, who nevertheless showed that he is again the man to beat on this year's race.

Armstrong ended up leading a group of five riders on the final 10km of the climb, whose average gradient was six percent.

Rasmussen, wearing the polka dot jersey for the race's best climber so far, did well to hang on while Valverde hung on beside his teammate Mancebo.

With less than five kilometres to race, Ullrich was already 1:28 behind Armstrong - meaning the German's hopes of upstaging the American on his retirement race were slowly slipping away.

Armstrong meanwhile upped the pace further for his companions with just four kilometres to go, and again shortly after Rasmussen had tried to break away a kilometre further on.

In what was a thrilling finale, Armstrong broke away from the group shortly after they had passed through the tunnel beside the 'kilometre to go' mark, but he was pursued by Valverde.

Armstrong's efforts to get to the finish line appeared to damage his chances of the stage win in the end - Valverde was hanging on his back wheel, and easily overtook the American in the final 50 metres to claim his first ever stage victory on the race.

Armstrong admitted he had been surprised to see Valverde overtake him after their duel to the finish.

"It's a surprise for me. I was hoping for the stage win, but I think today we may have seen the future of cycling. He's strong, intelligent and he's fast. Very impressive."


Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article