Steels takes Tour's second stage

Posted: Monday, July 03, 2000

LOUDUN, France -- Defending champion Lance Armstrong remained in second place in the Tour de France despite finishing way back in Sunday's first road stage.

Tom Steels of Belgium won the close stage, finishing the 120-mile course from Futuroscope to Loudun in 4 hours, 46 minutes, 8 seconds.

Steels edged Australia's Stuart O'Grady in a frantic sprint to the finish line but Britain's David Millar retained the yellow jersey as the overall leader and stretched his advantage over Armstrong to four seconds.

''It was close with O'Grady,'' said Steels, a member of the Mapei team. ''It's very important to take a victory early on, especially with a team like ours, with lots of sprinters.''

O'Grady, of Credit Agricole, just beat Erik Zabel of Deutsche Telekom.

Laurent Jalabert of France remained third in the 21-stage event, 15 seconds off the pace. Germany's Jan Ullrich is 16 seconds back and Spain's David Canada 18 seconds behind.

Armstrong, who took a nap after the race and did not speak to reporters, appeared content to stay back and get ready for Tuesday's important team time trials.

Tyler Hamilton, Armstrong's right-hand man on the U.S. Postal team, cut his elbow when he fell after 23 1/2 miles. He continued after receiving medical attention.

''My handlebars went into some guy's rear wheel and I crashed,'' he said. ''I was a little shaken up. But it could have been worse.''

Hamilton said that the mood of the pack had been ''nervy'' in the first day of road racing.

Millar had the right to wear three jerseys -- yellow for race leader, green for points leader, and white for best young rider.

Millar chose yellow and gave the green to his nearest rival Armstrong.

The 28-year-old Steels won three stages on last year's Tour and would have had a fourth but was disqualified for bumping an opponent in a dash to the finishing line.

Sunday's open road race came as a relief to the riders after Saturday's tense battle against the clock at the Futuroscope theme park. The second stage wound its way along narrow roads, slicing through fields of sunflowers and haystacks. Thousands of local residents and visitors lined the route even before midday.

Erik Dekker of the Netherlands and Frenchman Jacky Durand were the first to attack and led for more than 60 miles, before being reeled in by the pack as it braced for the final sprint.

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