VERDUN, France -- Lance Armstrong finished in the main pack after a difficult stretch of racing Wednesday to remain in seventh place in the Tour de France.
Laurent Jalabert of France, who broke three ribs in February while changing a light bulb, captured the fourth stage. He edged Ludo Dierckxsens of Belgium in a sprint finish.
Australia's Stuart O'Grady kept the overall leader's yellow jersey for a second day.
Armstrong finished seven seconds behind the leaders on a day of racing that ended at the scene of one of World War I's bloodiest battles. The two-time defending champion was 30th in the 133.5-mile stage.
''It was a very, very hard day,'' the Texan said. ''All the favorites were in the front of the pack. But it's better to have them there than ahead of the pack.''
Armstrong last entered Verdun with the Tour de France in 1993, winning the stage at age 21. It was his first stage victory in the Tour.
Dierckxsens, Jalabert and Francisco Mancebo broke from the front of the pack with 18.6 miles left to go and led by up to 1:25. Their advantage slowly diminished and Jalabert broke away again 1.8 miles from the finish.
Dierckxsens followed and the two flip-flopped for the lead until the Frenchman triumphed, timed in 5 hours, 17 minutes, 49 seconds after the start in Huy.
''It's a lesson in courage,'' Jalabert said of his comeback from injury. ''I never gave up. I started from very low and I have had a lot of doubts recently.''
Jalabert, who rides for CSC-Tiscali, fell off a ladder while changing a bulb at his home in Geneva. He was unable to ride for more than two months.
He has more than 150 career victories and has won three Tour stages. He was ranked No. 1 in the world from 1995-1997 and again in 1999. In 1997, he won the time trial event at the world cycling championships.
But, other than Wednesday's victory, Jalabert has not earned any titles this year.
France's Damien Nazon led the main pack as it ended the stage seven seconds off the pace and took third place. Armstrong finished in the same time, as did his main rival, Germany's Jan Ullrich.
Wednesday's route took riders through the wooded Ardennes hills and the golden fields of France's eastern Lorraine district to Verdun.
Italy's Francesco Casagrande, once ranked No. 1 in the world, pulled out of the race within an hour of the start. He has been troubled by a stomach ailment since the start of the Tour.
Thursday's stage is a 41.6 mile team time trial from Verdun to Bar-le-Duc in which Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team is expected to perform well.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.