ROME, Ga. Lance Armstrong was edged at the line in the second stage of the Tour de Georgia. No problem. His strongest part of the race is still to come.
Armstrong positioned himself for a second straight Tour de Georgia victory, even though he finished behind Austria's Peter Wrolich and Italy's Manuel Quinziato on Wednesday.
The race now moves to the stages where Armstrong excels: a time trial Thursday that also finishes in Rome, followed by a couple of grueling legs through the north Georgia mountains.
''I feel good, fairly good,'' said Armstrong, a six-time Tour de France winner who plans to retire after this summer's race. ''We haven't had any tough days. We'll have a better idea tomorrow.''
Armstrong claimed a surprising stage victory in this northwest Georgia city a year ago, thrusting the front wheel of his bike across the line for the win.
This time, he was in contention again as the leaders struggled up the last steep hill, passing the clock tower that looms over downtown, and sprinted downhill to the finish.
Wrolich got to the line first, just ahead of Quinziato and Armstrong in the tightly bunched finish. The top 81 riders were all credited with the time of 4 hours, 46 minutes, 29 seconds.
''I tried my luck,'' Armstrong said. ''Last year was almost a freak experience, winning a sprint like that. It's not as if I'm disappointed to finish third. That's a tough little circuit out there.''
South African Robert Hunter, who won Tuesday's first stage, got to keep the yellow jersey after scoring problems delayed the official results for 3 1/2 hours.
Wrolich was presented with the yellow jersey at the awards ceremony, but the referees eventually determined that Hunter still had it based on a complicated tiebreaking formula.
Hunter and Wrolich both have a cumulative time of 10:34:11. Quinziato and Benjamin Brooks of Australia are 4 seconds back, while Armstrong is fifth just 6 seconds off the lead.
Armstrong's Discovery Channel teammates helped him get to the front, but they weren't there to help him at the end. That was the difference, according to Wrolich.
''There was nothing left because he was all alone,'' said Wrolich, who was able to work with Gerolsteiner teammate Levi Leopheimer on the last of three laps through downtown. ''If he maybe had one more (teammate), he would have had the best possibility.''
Armstrong said he's not quite as strong as he was in 2004.
''It's all positioning in the end,'' he said. ''Some guys came around me, and I don't have the speed in my legs this year that I had last year.''
This could be the American farewell for Armstrong, who announced his retirement Monday. He has left open the possibility of adding another U.S. event in May to tune up for his final Tour de France.
This is the last race for Italy's Andrea Tafi, who thrilled the crowd by breaking away from the peleton. He led by as much as 5 1/2 minutes during the 122.7-mile stage, which began in Fayetteville, south of Atlanta.
''He doesn't like it when we go slow,'' Armstrong said. ''He was trying to liven things up a little bit, try go out and race hard. He's been a big champion in our sport.''
Tafi couldn't hold his big lead. By the time the riders entered Rome for the three-lap sprint through downtown, the advantage had been whittled to just 50 seconds. The pack went past him early in the second lap around the city, and the Italian faded to 99th.
Tafi competed for the final time in Europe at the Paris-Roubaix race this month. He's retiring after the Tour de Georgia.
''Cycling has been my passion and my love,'' he said. ''I said goodbye to the sport in Europe, and I'm saying it here in the American context.''
In a prelude to the problems in determining the overall leader, there was plenty of confusion over who won the stage.
Initially, the public-address announcer called out Rene Haselbacher as the winner. Then, his Gerolsteiner teammate, Michael Rich, was listed as the top finisher.
But Wrolich, who also rides for the German-based Gerolsteiner team, arrived for the awards ceremony. He glanced at the standings sheet with a puzzled look when it showed Rich as the winner.
Finally, after looking at a replay of the finish, race officials announced that Wrolich was the stage winner. Ivan Fanelli of Italy and American Bobby Julich finished fourth and fifth, respectively,
The six-day race ends Sunday in suburban Atlanta.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.