Armstrong pulls away in Pyrenees

Posted: Monday, July 23, 2001

LUZ-ARDIDEN, France -- Lance Armstrong descended from the wooded peaks of the Pyrenees on Sunday wearing the leader's yellow jersey and on course for a third straight Tour de France title.

Barring sickness or accidents, the Texan is almost certain to be the champion again when the race ends July 29 in in Paris, thanks to his dominating mountain rides the past week.

In Sunday's last mountain leg he was fourth, finishing just behind main rival Jan Ullrich of Germany. Armstrong leads the overall standings by 5 minutes, 5 seconds, with six stages left. In these flat stages it is difficult for riders to take a big lead.

''This year, he is stronger then ever,'' said Ullrich, the runner-up last year. ''Simply unbeatable.''

Armstrong took the lead Saturday after his third stage victory. All three were in the mountain stages, which began in the Alps and moved to the Pyrenees close to the Spanish border.

He slowed before the finish Sunday, apparently allowing Ullrich to beat him. The pair shook hands after crossing the line. It was the only time since the start of the five mountain stages that Armstrong hadn't overwhelmed the German rider.

''I tried everything, my team tried everything,'' Ullrich said. ''I attacked, my team attacked, but Lance was simply unbeatable.''

After the stage Armstrong attended the daily race leader's ceremony and was applauded by spectators. He returned to his team vehicle without speaking to reporters.

Roberto Laiseka of Spain delighted thousands of fans from his native Basque region by winning the leg from Tarbes to this ski station high in the Pyrenees. Wladimir Belli of Italy finished second.

Ullrich, the 1997 champion, moved into second place behind Armstrong. The two riders recorded the same time in the 89.6-mile stage. Armstrong defeated Ullrich in the previous four mountain stages.

Ullrich was part of a small group of riders that included Armstrong when he attacked with less than a mile to go. Armstrong gave chase but unlike the previous mountain stages was unable to overtake his rival.

Laiseka crossed himself and blew kisses as he approached the finish line surrounded by hundreds of fans clad in the orange colors of his Euskaltel team.

He took the stage lead by catching Belli with 3.6 miles to go in the last climb under blazing sunshine. One fan ran toward him and poured water on his neck to cool him.

He finished in 4:24:30. Belli was 54 seconds behind, with Ullrich and Armstrong 1:08 off the pace. Although Ullrich had the same time as Armstrong, he drew eight bonus seconds for taking third place.

Sunday's stage covered three tough mountain passes, including the highest peak of the Tour, the 6,980-foot Col du Tourmalet.

Monday is a rest day. Racing resumes Tuesday with the longest stage of the Tour, a 144-mile stretch from Pau to Lavaur in southwest France.

Before Sunday's stage, 22 unidentified riders underwent random blood tests for drug use. All were cleared to compete.



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