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Armstrong: Early TT would thin Tour’s thundering herd

Lance Armstrong believes Tour de France organizers could do more to calm nervous riders and avoid spills that could ruin his bid for a record sixth straight victory. For a second straight day, the five-time defending champion offered unsolicited pointers for Tour officials, suggesting that a time trial be held in the often-tense first week to thin the number of race favorites. Sending riders out one by one against the clock would leave just the fastest with a realistic chance of winning the three-week Tour. Laggards would fall by the wayside, reducing the field of contenders. That, in

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By The Associated Press

Lance Armstrong believes Tour de France organizers could do more to calm nervous riders and avoid spills that could ruin his bid for a record sixth straight victory.

For a second straight day, the five-time defending champion offered unsolicited pointers for Tour officials, suggesting that a time trial be held in the often-tense first week to thin the number of race favorites.

Sending riders out one by one against the clock would leave just the fastest with a realistic chance of winning the three-week Tour. Laggards would fall by the wayside, reducing the field of contenders. That, in turn, could leave fewer racers jostling each day at the front of the race – a recipe for crashes.

“The race needs a time trial in the first week because it’s too nervous without it,” said Armstrong, who sits in sixth place overall, less than 10 minutes behind Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere). “It’s safer for the event to establish some order in the group, and we’re still another week away from figuring out who the hell’s going to be in the front.”

On Friday, Armstrong criticized the stage finish as too narrow after a massive pile-up left some riders badly hurt. The U.S. Postal leader took a tumble too, early on, but was not seriously injured.

Indeed, this year’s Tour has been a race of attrition in its first week. A dozen riders have withdrawn from the race, mostly with injuries, including Italian sprinters Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) and Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze). Gilberto Simoni (Saeco), a two-time winner of the Giro d’Italia, nearly quit Saturday after getting injured in Friday’s large crash. And American Bobby Julich (CSC) hurt his hip and the lower part of his back, but the team’s medical staff decided he didn’t need an X-ray.

“It’s impossible to safeguard against crashes, but it’s of course bad luck that we’re having so many of them,” said CSC director Bjarne Riis. “It’s the Tour de France, and many are using their elbows to get ahead. Those are the terms unfortunately, and that can’t be helped. Now we’re just hoping it’s not too serious with Bobby.”

American Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Armstrong’s now racing for the Swiss Phonak team, also hurt his back in Friday’s pileup, but kept racing.

“I wasn’t feeling so hot,” Hamilton said.

In Saturday’s stage, the racers faced still more obstacles – brief showers, windy conditions and fans lighting smoky flares and spilling onto the course in the last 10km.

But happily, Armstrong said, there was little flair to the stage – just what the racers needed after a week of rain-soaked roads and crashes galore.

“I thought you’d have more spice in the race, but I think guys are tired and stressed from all the crashes,” said Armstrong.