Danielson holds off Armstrong at Tour

Posted: Sunday, April 24, 2005

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (AP) — Lance Armstrong made a late surge on the steep climbs of snowy Brasstown Bald, but at the end he yielded to teammate Tom Danielson.

Danielson, who races with Armstrong on the Discovery Channel team, held on to claim the fifth stage and take the overall lead in the Tour de Georgia on Saturday.

The 27-year-old rider finished 14 seconds ahead of Levi Leipheimer, leaving the two Americans in a tight battle for the overall lead.

''There was no way I was going to lose the race today, when my idol before I even thought about getting on a bike was riding on the front for me,'' Danielson said, referring to Armstrong. ''I was not going to let anything happen.''

Armstrong was third, followed by Floyd Landis, another U.S. cyclist who lost the yellow jersey as the overall leader.

The race, which Armstrong is again using as practice for this summer's Tour de France, ends Sunday in Alpharetta, north of Atlanta. Armstrong will enter the final stage fifth overall, 1 minute, 41 seconds behind Danielson.

Leipheimer is second overall, only 4 seconds behind Danielson. Landis is third overall, followed by Bobby Julich and Armstrong.

Armstrong, who has won the Tour de France six straight years, said Monday that he will retire after this year's Tour, leaving the Georgia race as possibly his last professional competition in the United States.

Sunday could be his U.S. farewell.

''It's very possible,'' Armstrong said. ''I haven't thought about it. I'm very aware of what's going on, aware I've been around long enough and had my day in the sun.

''I'm comfortable with it, looking forward to ... just getting on with life.''

Armstrong has left open the possibility of entering a local race in June to give him more practice for the Tour de France.

The fifth stage began with rumors that Armstrong might withdraw from the Georgia race. He complained of an upset stomach Friday, and earlier in the week he had said his legs were not as strong as they need to be to win this race or the Tour de France.

Instead, Armstrong again used the mountain climbs to showcase his strength as he attempts to defend his Georgia title. The stage finished at Georgia's tallest peak — the 4,784-foot Brasstown Bald.

''I felt better than yesterday,'' he said. ''It has not been a stress-free week. The announcement at the beginning maybe took something out of me.''

The Brasstown Balk peak has earned the International Cycling Union's toughest classification — Hors Catagorie, or beyond categorization. Saturday's course also included another tough climb, up the 3,518-foot Hogpen Gap.

Armstrong emerged from a pack on Hogpen Gap to lead a chase on the leaders, with Danielson and others with him.

Armstrong said it was meaningful to him for Danielson, to pass a former teammate, Landis, as the overall leader.

''That was a special moment,'' Armstrong said. ''You have to keep in mind, I've been around a long time and had riders come onto the team and I've invested a lot of time and energy in a lot of them. To see one rider who left the team be taken over by someone who is on the team now and happy and pleased to be here, that means a lot to me.''

The chase group caught American Christian Vandevelde of Team CSC, and Danielson was stronger on the final climb.

''Being able to come and race with Lance was a huge motivation for me,'' Danielson said.

''When he told me I was coming, that really motivated me. He has been giving me a hard time, saying 'Oh, I'm going to be working for you.' I was just glad to be working for him. I hope to make it like a mini Tour de France and help him win.''

After the riders braved heavy rain, thunderstorms and, at times, hail, during Friday's Stage 4, weather again was a factor Saturday. There was a dark sky and brisk wind at the start of the race in Gainesville, and soon the daunting sight of the mountains came into view for the racers.

With sleet, snow flurries and temperatures in the mid-30s at Brasstown Bald, it was difficult for some fans arriving several hours early to endure the wait for the cyclists. There again were reports of some hail on the course, though the skies cleared for Danielson and the leaders at the top of Brasstown Bald.

Notes: USA National Team rider Edward King had to be transported by helicopter to North Fulton Regionaol Hospital in Alpharetta after he crashed about 80 miles into the race. A scan for head injuries was negative and he was being evaluated for spinal injuries. On Friday, Canadian Mark Walters was hospitalized but released with minor injuries following a crash.

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