Thursday, July 10, 2003

An on-time delivery for U.S. Postal squad

The Associated Press

U.S. Postal's Lance Armstrong (left), George Hincapie and Pavel Padrnos helped pace the team to victory in Wednesday's time trial.
Associated Press photo

SAINT-DIZIER, France - Lance Armstrong and his teammates found another reason to raise their glasses for a toast .

The U.S. Postal Service squad won a team time trial at the Tour de France for the first time Wednesday, leaving Armstrong in second place overall and in good position to win his fifth straight title as the punishing mountain stages - in which he excels - loom.

"Last year, and in previous years, we didn't win the time trial, and it was a really unhappy feeling at the dinner table," Armstrong said.

"We were asking ourselves why we couldn't do it, so this time we just said, 'Come on, let's do it; we've got to do this.' It will be a happy dinner table tonight."

Cycling's premier event began in earnest Wednesday, and the machine-like performance by the Postal Service team in the 43-mile race lifted Armstrong from 12th place.

The results in the team time trial, in which cyclists race against the clock, left U.S. Postal - nicknamed the "Blue Train" - with the top eight finishers overall.

Armstrong's teammate, Victor Hugo Pena, claimed the yellow jersey and became the first Colombian to hold the overall lead in the Tour's 100-year history.

"Sure, I'll be the one wearing the yellow jersey," Pena said. "But this is a victory for the team - it's one of the best teams that's ever existed."

Pena's total time is 13:44:44, with Armstrong one second behind. The next six spots belong to U.S. Postal: Viatcheslav Ekimov, George Hincapie, Jose Luis Rubiera, Roberto Heras, Pavel Padrnos and Floyd Landis.

"The plan stays the same," Hincapie said. "We work for Lance."

Pena leads Armstrong because he was one second faster in the Tour's first leg.

"I have the jersey now, but we'll give it to him later," Pena said.

U.S. Postal won in 1 hour, 18 minutes, 27 seconds and holds a lead of 30 seconds over the second-place ONCE team and 43 seconds over Bianchi. Both squads have riders who could threaten Armstrong's quest for another title.

In 2002, U.S. Postal was second in the team time trial, 16 seconds behind ONCE.

Tour de France

Stage: Joinville to Saint-Dizier, a 42.8-mile team time trial in eastern France.

Winner: U.S. Postal team in 1 hour, 18 minutes and 27 seconds - the first win by Lance Armstrong's team in this stage.

How others fared: Spanish outfit ONCE, last year's winner, finished second; Jan Ullrich's Team Bianchi was third, and came in fourth.

Next stage: Troyes to Nevers, a 121.52-mile route toward central France.

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