MONTLUCON, France -- Belgium's Serge Baguet won the 17th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, while Lance Armstrong maintained a five-minute overall lead and remained on track for his third straight championship.
With just three days left in the three-week-long race, Baguet edged Danish rider Jakob Piil in the final sprint to claim his first stage win in the grueling event.
Armstrong finished in 32nd place with the main pack, 13 seconds behind Baguet. He retained the overall leader's yellow jersey, with an unchanged advantage of 5 minutes, 5 seconds over his closest rival, Jan Ullrich of Germany. Kazakstan's Andrei Kivilev remained third, 5:13 behind the American.
Armstrong's big lead means he is almost certain to collect a third consecutive Tour title when the race finishes in Paris on Sunday.
Baguet, who rides for the Lotto team, completed the 120.3-mile stretch between Brive-la-Gaillarde and this town in central France in 4:13:36.
The 32-year-old had never won a stage in his two previous Tours. A former teen-age cycling star, he retired from the professional sport at the end of 1996 after winning only nine races in six years. He worked as a tiler, riding only in his spare time, before returning to high-level competition in 2000.
''It took a lot of sacrifice,'' Baguet said. ''Only my wife knows what it meant to come back. Now I know I can win. I want to ride for another five or six years.''
He crossed the line in Montlucon just ahead of Piil, who clocked the same time, and was five seconds faster than third-place Massimiliano Lelli of Italy.
The three were part of a group that broke from the main pack early in the long, hot stage. The trio led the pack by up to 4:35 before losing ground in the closing stretch.
Baguet's win was the second this Tour for his Lotto team. Teammate Rik Verbrugghe took Tuesday's stage from Pau to Lavaur.
Australian Stuart O'Grady kept the green jersey for the best sprinter, although Germany's Erik Zabel reduced his deficit with three stages to go.
Friday's stage is a tough 37.82-mile individual time-trial from Montlucon to Saint-Amand-Montrond, in which Kivilev is likely to face a strong challenge from Spain's Joseba Beloki for third place overall.
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