CHAMROUSSE, France -- Lance Armstrong hunched over the handlebars, lowered his head and gritted his teeth as he powered up the steep mountain climb from Grenoble to Chamrousse.
This time, he wasn't bluffing. But the end result was the same Wednesday.
The Texan blew away his rivals for a second day running and took another big step toward a third Tour de France title.
''We're getting closer and closer to the yellow jersey,'' Armstrong said after finishing the uphill time-trial a minute faster than his main rival, Germany's Jan Ullrich.
Taking the start in fourth from last position, the U.S. Postal Service rider pedaled at a tempo that made the 5,019-foot climb high into the French Alps look effortless.
Some 2 1/2 miles from the finish, he had set a time 42 seconds faster than Ullrich's. In the final uphill stretch, he extended the margin by a further 18 seconds, clocking a time of 1 hour, 7 minutes, 27 seconds.
But it wasn't enough to satisfy the two-time champion.
''I still believe that there's another level of Lance Armstrong,'' he said.
The performance was all the more impressive given Ullrich's strong showing on the 19.87-mile leg. He placed second after knocking 35 seconds off Spaniard Joseba Beloki's best time.
The win gave Armstrong his second stage victory. He left his rivals behind in Tuesday's first mountain climb, surging past them at the foot of L'Alpe d'Huez and powering to the summit.
He later admitted he had used TV coverage to bluff his competitors, who exhausted themselves in the first two climbs believing Armstrong was tired and unable to keep pace.
There was no room for poker tactics in Wednesday's grueling climb.
''(In a time-trial) there are no tactics, it's an event that anybody can figure out,'' Armstrong said. ''The only slight consideration is that it's a hard course, so you have to judge where you use your efforts.''
To help judge the climb, Armstrong and his teammates did four practice runs at Chamrousse before the start of the Tour.
''We spent a lot of time being here and figuring out what to do,'' Armstrong saud.
Armstrong had earlier warned that it would be ''tough'' to recover from the effort at L'Alpe d'Huez, but showed no sign of flagging Wednesday.
''I didn't expect to recover and feel as good as I did,'' Armstrong said. ''From now on, I will be very careful with my efforts.''
Ullrich, the 1997 champion, was distraught after being beaten by Armstrong a second day running.
''Lance Armstrong once said that Jan Ullrich is the greatest talent in cycling. This doesn't seem to be the case,'' the Team Telekom rider said. ''But I am not giving up despite everything and I'll try everything. I've never been in such good shape.''
After Wednesday's stage, Armstrong rose from fourth to third place in the overall standings. The two riders ahead of him -- Frenchman Francois Simon in the lead and Kazakstan's Andrei Kivilev -- are expected to lose ground in the next three stages in the Pyrenees mountains, whereas Armstrong is tipped to shine.
He leads Ullrich by 3:34, which the German will be hard pressed to reduce given Armstrong's current form in uphill stages.
Thursday is a rest day, during which riders are transferred by plane from Grenoble to Perpignan at the foot of the Pyrenees.
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