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Leadership no sweat for Armstrong

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2002

BEZIERS, France -- Only the hot weather made Lance Armstrong sweat during the 13th stage of the Tour de France.

Saving energy for the race's grueling final week, the Texan was the 30th rider across the finish line in Saturday's leg, nearly 10 minutes behind winner David Millar of Britain.

But Armstrong made sure his closest pursuers for the title didn't gain any time on him. He kept his overall lead of nearly 2 1/2 minutes and remained on course for a fourth straight title when the Tour ends in Paris on July 28.

''It was very hot,'' was all Armstrong had to say about the stretch from the foot of the Pyrenees to Beziers, near the Mediterranean, where temperatures topped 85.

Millar covered the mostly flat route of 106 miles in 4 hours, 8 minutes, 18 seconds.

Armstrong crossed the finish line with the main pack, 9:56 off the pace. In the overall rankings, he's still 2:28 ahead of Spain's Joseba Beloki, thanks to victories in the opening two mountain stages in the Pyrenees.

Unlike last year, when the Tour ended with nearly a week of flat stretches, this year's race saves some of the hardest cycling for last.

Sunday's 137-mile 14th stage ends with a daunting climb up Mont Ventoux, which rises to 6,309 feet from flat surrounding countryside.

After Monday's rest day, the riders head into the Alps on Tuesday, and Wednesday's 16th leg from Les Deux Alpes to La Plagne is probably the most difficult of the three-week Tour.

It features three exceptionally tough climbs, which should help Armstrong extend his lead over Beloki. It is followed by another mountain stage, albeit a much easier one, on Thursday.

Organizers designed this year's Tour to ensure a more suspenseful last week, but if Armstrong continues to dominate, the race outcome will likely be known long before the finish on the Champs-Elysees.

Millar's win was his second ever in the Tour. He beat Armstrong by 2 seconds to win the prologue in 2000.

His training for this year's race was delayed several months by illness.

''When I found out I had glandular fever in January, February, I thought my season was over,'' Millar said. ''But the team encouraged me to get fit again.''

He said it might be a few more years before he really makes his mark on the Tour: ''I'm waiting for Armstrong to retire.''

Millar came in just ahead of David Etxebarria of Spain and Michael Boogerd of the Netherlands, who both were credited with the same time as Millar.

Millar fell in the prologue of last year's Tour and finished the leg in 110th place. He was fifth in this year's prologue and now stands 59th in the overall standings.

The leg was quieter than Friday's, when some cyclists were disciplined.

Jacky Durand of France was thrown out of the Tour for holding on to a car during a difficult climb. His countryman Christophe Moreau punched Carlos Sastre of Spain after Sastre's bike pushed against his. Sastre retaliated by yanking Moreau's jersey. Moreau drew a 2-minute penalty, Sastre a 20-seconds penalty.



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