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Any questions? Armstrong heads to Paris in yellow

Victory for Lance Armstrong in Saturday's stage 19 time trial at Besançon was a fait accompli. So much so, that at his press conference afterward, the man behind what has been dubbed by at least one media outlet as the “Texas Chainring Massacre” was not asked one question about his terrific ride in the 55km time trial. There was really no explanation needed about Armstrong's winning ride over the T-Mobile pairing of Germans Jan Ullrich and Andreas Klöden, who placed second and third on the stage at 1:01 and 1:27 respectively. It was expected. It was provided. And it was so very conclusive.

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American beats second-placed Ullrich by 1:01 in final TT

By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews

Armstrong powers to yet another victory in the final time trial

Armstrong powers to yet another victory in the final time trial

Photo: AFP

Armstrong powers to another stage win and virtually cinches a sixth straight Tour

Armstrong powers to another stage win and virtually cinches a sixth straight Tour

Photo: Graham Watson

Victory for Lance Armstrong in Saturday’s stage 19 time trial at Besançon was a fait accompli. So much so, that at his press conference afterward, the man behind what has been dubbed by at least one media outlet as the “Texas Chainring Massacre” was not asked one question about his terrific ride in the 55km time trial.

There was really no explanation needed about Armstrong’s winning ride over the T-Mobile pairing of Germans Jan Ullrich and Andreas Klöden, who placed second and third on the stage at 1:01 and 1:27 respectively.

It was expected. It was provided. And it was so very conclusive. And it extended Armstrong’s total of wins in the final time trial of a Tour he has won from four to five.

It most probably would be six of six had the heavens not opened over Nantes last year when Armstrong — again in yellow and assured of victory — eased up the pace after hearing that his nearest challenger, Ullrich, had crashed on a slippery traffic circle.

Arguably the most interesting bit of trivia to take away from Saturday’s time trial also involved Armstrong and Ullrich – the 1:01 margin Armstrong had over Ullrich in the time trial at Besançon was exactly the same gap he had on the German in the stage 16 time trial to L’Alpe d’Huez and in last year’s general classification!

On a course whose difficulties included many rises, dips and turns, the stage was made even harder to conquer by a blanket of humidity and heat that swept over the France Comté region, especially in the late afternoon.

Basso gave it his all, but slipped back a spot on GC

Basso gave it his all, but slipped back a spot on GC

Photo: Graham Watson

Armstrong’s winning time of 1:06.49 on the circular course came at an average speed of 49.389kmh, and with the fastest split times at each of two intervals before the finish line.

At the 18km mark, Armstrong clocked 22:47, which was an astounding 43 seconds faster than Ullrich and 47 better than Klöden. At the 40km mark, Armstrong’s 49:20 was still 51 seconds faster than Ullrich and 1:06 better than Klöden.

He used the same bike he rode in the prologue at Liège on July 3. And Armstrong again paid credit to those in the “Formula 1” program that U.S. Postal set up a year ago, after the Tour, to devise a bike that would give him a more aerodynamic position.

Armstrong’s stage win left no doubt that he will ride into Paris Sunday to claim a record sixth Tour win — that is, if any doubters remained.

“To be on the verge of breaking history is incredibly special,” Armstrong told The Associated Press after winning in 1:06:49. “I’m always careful to say that we have another day to go, and if you crash on the Champs-Elysees and don’t finish tomorrow, then you don’t win. So I have to be careful and hope it works out.”

For the Texan, his victory Saturday also secures his place in the record books as the winningest champion since Frenchman Bernard Hinault in 1981, when the fiery five-Tour-winning Breton also won five stages.

Armstrong, flanked by his Belgian directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel at his press conference, was clearly a happy man after he clinched his fifth individual stage win Saturday. But there was a lot of relief there, too.

When asked if five stage wins — and victory in the team time trial — led him to feel that he dominated the Tour, Armstrong replied, “No.”

“Johan and I were talking the other night,” he said. “And I hardly ever, if ever, attacked in this Tour — I usually found myself in groups and only had to sprint, or in the time trials. I didn’t intend to dominate the race. I wouldn’t be so bold to call it domination.”

The most significant outcome of Saturday’s stage was the change in the order of those who will join him on the podium Sunday in Paris. Italian Ivan Basso (CSC) dropped from second to third, while Klöden rose to second spot, eliminating Basso’s 1:02 lead on the German.

The switch in podium places was due in part to Klöden’s power and impressive third place that nullified the impact of Basso’s “best ever Tour time trial,” which saw him place sixth, 2:40 behind Armstrong.

Basso was level with Klöden at 18km, but was unable to match the 29-year-old German over the remaining kilometers. He had dropped to sixth by the second split at 40km when he was 52 seconds behind the German, who is one of the revelations of the Tour.

“I’m disappointed for my team and for myself, but I’m still happy to finish on the Tour podium,” Basso told Reuters. “Being able to climb on the podium in Paris is the most important thing.

“I tried to do the time trial at 100 percent, without making any calculations and about thinking how well Klöden was doing. It turned out that I lost second place but there was nothing I could do about it. He did a good time trial, I did a good time trial, but it wasn’t enough.”

Another revelation has been Armstrong’s Postal team rider Floyd Landis, whose wife followed him in the team car Saturday and saw him take an astounding fourth place. CSC’s Bobby Julich also had a great ride, to place fifth, at the end of a Tour that has seen him overcoming a series of injuries.

Meanwhile, American Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) is now set to clinch the second top-10 Tour finish of his career after finishing 12th at 4:06 Saturday. Leipheimer will start the 163km 20th stage from Montereau to Paris in ninth overall, at 20:31.

There was one just one other change in the top-10. Spaniard Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) moved from 11th to 10th overall at 23:13 after he placed 21st at 5:21, following the 61st-place finish at 8:07 by Italian Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio), which saw him drop to 11th overall at 24:40.

Meanwhile, France was shedding tears for the inevitable but so unwanted loss by Thomas Voeckler (Brioches la Boulangère) of his white jersey as the best young rider to Russian Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears). The plucky Voeckler, who rode brilliantly to enjoy a 10-day spell in the yellow jersey until Armstrong took it back on stage 15, finally ran out of gas to place 85th in the time trial at 9:41.

Karpets, who started the day 45 seconds down on Voeckler in the white-jersey competition, placed eighth at 3:33 to Armstrong, to simply floor the weary Voeckler.

On to Paris
Now on the eve of his sixth trip to Paris in the yellow jersey, Armstrong was asked what it meant to win six Tours.

“It’s very difficult to say,” he replied. “You’ll have to ask me in a couple weeks, I think. When I won the first one, I thought I could die and go away a happy man. To win six is very hard to put into words.”

“I’m happy, because it’s finished,” he added. “I’m tired mentally, have tired legs.”

As to whether he will return next year, Armstrong wouldn’t say for certain. There have been reports in The New York Times and elsewhere that Armstrong will not race the 2005 Tour. On Saturday, however, he conceded that it would be hard to turn his back on his favorite race.

“I can’t imagine skipping the Tour, and if I do come, I would only come with the perfect condition,” he said. “For me it’s a special, special event, and I can’t imagine not being here.”

Results are posted.


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