Armstrong drops to 11th place in Tour de France

Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2001

ANTWERP, Belgium -- Lance Armstrong finished in 80th place in the second stage of the Tour de France on Monday and again had to fend off questions about drugs and cycling.

Belgium's Marc Wauters won the stage and took the overall lead. Armstrong, bidding for a third straight title, crossed the line in the main pack, 22 seconds behind Wauters.

The Texan dropped from third to 11th place in the overall standings but still remains a favorite to win his sport's most grueling event. Riders will cover more than 2,100 miles in the three-week race that ends July 29 in Paris.

Before the stage from Calais in northeast France to Antwerp, Armstrong defended his ties to an Italian doctor whose name has been linked to the drug EPO.

However, Armstrong said he would ''re-evaluate'' his relationship if the physician is found guilty of wrongdoing in an ongoing drug inquiry.

Wauters finished the 136.71-mile stage in 4 hours, 35 minutes, 47 seconds. He takes the leader's yellow jersey from France's Christophe Moreau of the Festina team.

Wauters crossed the line in a sprint finish. France's Arnaud Pretot was in second place and South Africa's Robert Hunter was third. All had the same time.

Wauters shook hands with Belgium's King Albert II after winning the stage.

''It's like a dream,'' the Rabobank rider said. ''The yellow jersey is a Godsend.''

He will wear it Tuesday when he rides through his hometown of Lummen on the third stage, an all-Belgian leg of 123 miles between Antwerp and Seraing.

''I hope to be allowed to meet my wife and children and to stop for a few minutes,'' he said.

Fans turned out in force for the run through the pancake-flat Flanders region that overlaps France and Belgium. They took advantage of sunshine after a weekend of gloomy skies and strong winds.

For Armstrong, the day's racing was overshadowed by his association with Dr. Michele Ferrari. Armstrong said he was ''proud'' to work with Ferrari and described him as ''honest.''

Armstrong, in response to newspaper reports, released a statement Sunday acknowledging his ties to the doctor. The cyclist denies ever taking the banned performance-enhancer EPO.

Ferrari is the subject of an Italian investigation linked to his role as physician to several prominent cyclists. A trial is scheduled for September.

Armstrong said he worked with Ferrari ''on a limited basis'' since 1995, and is currently working with him on a possible attempt at breaking the world one-hour record.

Armstrong said he uses only ''natural methods of improvement,'' including altitude tents and dietary advice.

''If the investigation throws up a guilty verdict, we'll re-evaluate the relationship,'' Armstrong said. ''I feel he's honest and innocent.''

Armstrong also described as ''unfortunate'' comments made by Ferrari in 1994 that played down the health risks of EPO.

The French sports daily L'Equipe said Ferrari, who worked for the Gewiss cycling team at the time, denied he prescribed EPO. Ferrari could not be reached at his home for comment.

Armstrong repeatedly has denied taking banned substances, most recently in response to a French investigation into the possibility that his U.S. Postal Service team may have used illicit substances in last year's Tour.

Armstrong has never failed a drug test and the investigation so far has yielded no evidence of improper drug use.

The drug tests carried out on the riders by a Belgian authority Monday will not be honored by world cycling's governing body.

The International Cycling Union said the forms filled out by riders were available only in the local language, Flemish.

Also, the urine samples were not subjected to tests capable of detecting the performance-enhancer EPO.

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