Sunday, July 28, 2002

Armstong adds to big lead in Tour de France

Associated Press Writer

        MACON, France — Lance Armstrong wasn't satisfied.

        Sure, he entered Saturday's time trial with a hefty overall lead in the Tour de France and little doubt that he'll win a fourth straight title. Sure, he's already shown he's a time-trial star.

        Still, Armstrong went out and dominated dozens of top cyclists yet again, winning the 19th stage easily and adding nearly 2 minutes to his advantage in the overall standings.

        In his mind, the victory made up for a second-place finish in a time trial July 15. That was Armstrong's first loss in a major Tour time trial since he first won the race in 1999.

        “After the first time trial, everyone said, 'Armstrong isn't good at time trials,”' the 30-year-old Texan said. “Today, I was very motivated to come back with a win.”

        Barring an accident or illness, Armstrong will complete another overall victory when the three-week race finishes Sunday with the traditionally ceremonial ride on the Champs-Elysees.

        Then he'll start planning for 2003, when he can tie Miguel Indurain's record of five straight Tour de France titles.

        “I don't see which racer could come and oppose him in the next two years,” said Eddie Merckx, who won five titles in six years in the 1960s and '70s. “He was not trained in the same school as me. Lance will last longer.”

        Armstrong finished Saturday's 31 miles from Regnie-Durette to Macon in central France in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 50 seconds for the 15th Tour stage victory of his career.

        That allowed him to stretch his overall lead over second-place Joseba Beloki of Spain from 5:06 to 7:17, which would be his second-largest winning margin since his first Tour victory in 1999.

        Raimondas Rumsas of Lithuania finished second Saturday, 53 seconds behind, and remained third overall.

        Beloki was ninth in the time trial.

        “It's never easy,” Armstrong said. “But in cycling, when you have a great team, it makes life easier. And we had the best team in the race.”

        Strong teammates aside, he was rarely tested throughout the competition.

        In the flat stages of the Tour's first half, the only crinkles for the 30-year-old Armstrong were a crash in the seventh leg that caught the back of his bike, and that surprise defeat in the ninth-stage time trial. The loss gave hope to rivals that he was weaker.

        “I love to read those things,” Armstrong said. “It works really well for my motivation.”

        Armstrong's archrival the past two years, 1997 champion Jan Ullrich, missed this year's Tour because of a knee injury and was recently given a six-month ban because of a failed drug test.

        Even if Ullrich returns to the Tour next year, it's hard to see how he could threaten Armstrong, whom many see as the event's new “patron” (“boss” in French).

        Armstrong disagrees with the title.

        “I don't think it's possible to have a new 'patron' today,” he said. “The field is too deep. It's not easy to control 180 riders.”

        Armstrong, who was diagnosed in 1996 with testicular cancer, thinks he already has made his mark on cycling.

        “Regardless of one victory, two victories, four victories, there's never been a victory by a cancer survivor,” he said. “That's a fact that hopefully I'll be remembered for.”


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