Armstrong sheds lead in Tour's first stage

Swiss cyclist commands front-runner position after race's first day

Posted: Monday, July 08, 2002

LUXEMBOURG -- Lance Armstrong's bid for a fourth straight Tour de France title might be helped by his loss in the first stage.

Switzerland's Rubens Bertogliati won the opening stage Sunday, sprinting across the finish just ahead of Armstrong and the rest of the main pack.

Bertogliati also took the leader's yellow jersey from Armstrong, who had won Saturday's prologue.

Retaining the yellow jersey early in the race was not a priority for Armstrong, who isn't expected to bid for a commanding edge until the mountain stages later race.

''If you have aspirations to have the lead in Paris, holding on to the yellow jersey now is not part of the game plan,'' said Dan Osipow, director of operations for Armstrong's U.S. Postal team. ''The jersey not only means more pressure, it means more work to defend it.''

Armstrong has only lost the yellow jersey once before -- in 1999, the year of his first Tour title, when he also won the prologue. That year, he regained the lead in the mountains and kept it until the finish.

''Lance Armstrong, tactically, would have an interest in seeing someone else take over the yellow jersey, so that someone else helps him lead the pack until the mountains,'' Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc said.

While Armstrong is the overwhelming favorite to win the Tour, the early, flat stages provide other teams an opportunity steal the spotlight.

''When there is a chance like this to take, you have to go for it,'' said Bertogliati, who picked up his first stage win in cycling's premier event.

The Lampre-Daikin rider finished in 4 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds -- the same time as the 121-rider pack.

Bertogliati described claiming the yellow jersey as ''a dream that has now come true.''

Bertogliati finished with the same time as Armstrong, who placed 30th. The Swiss rider had 20 bonus seconds taken off for placing first, allowing him to move past Armstrong in the standings.

German sprint specialist Erik Zabel, of the Telekom team, celebrated his 32nd birthday by placing second. Australia's Robbie McEwen of the Lotto team was third.

In the overall standings, France's Laurent Jalabert was second, just ahead of Armstrong. Jalabert, of CSC-Tiscali, finished with the same time as Bertogliati but won bonus seconds in an intermediate sprint.

Three crashes entangled small groups of riders, but no one was seriously injured.

''The field is hungry in the first few days, and that's why you have to be careful about falls, which can be frequent,'' French rider Jacky Durand of the fdjeux.com team.

Thousands of fans cheered the riders during the 119.4-mile stage through the countryside and medieval towns of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, one of Europe's smallest countries. The weather was cool and overcast, but the sun poked through the clouds near the end of the race.

Monday's 112.2-mile second stage is from Luxembourg to Saarbruecken, Germany.



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