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Armstrong takes aim at the Chamrousse Time Trial

Lance Armstrong had a smile on his face Tuesday evening after becoming the second American, nine years after Andy Hampsten, to win a stage of the Tour de France at L'Alpe d'Huez. In doing so he came within 26 seconds of equaling the record time of 37 minutes 35 seconds for the 14km-long climb set in 1997 by Italian super-climber Marco Pantani. Making such an effort after racing for six hours on a 209km course with more than 17,000 feet of climbing is a phenomenal athletic feat. And if Armstrong is to continue making up time he conceded in the Tour's first nine stages he will have to make a

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By John Wilcockson

Lance Armstrong had a smile on his face Tuesday evening after becoming the second American, nine years after Andy Hampsten, to win a stage of the Tour de France at L’Alpe d’Huez. In doing so he came within 26 seconds of equaling the record time of 37 minutes 35 seconds for the 14km-long climb set in 1997 by Italian super-climber Marco Pantani.

Making such an effort after racing for six hours on a 209km course with more than 17,000 feet of climbing is a phenomenal athletic feat. And if Armstrong is to continue making up time he conceded in the Tour’s first nine stages he will have to make a similar effort Wednesday.

Stage 11 is an individual time trial, but no ordinary time trial. The 32km course starts in downtown Grenoble and is flat for only the opening 4.5km as it heads south to a first climb, which rises about 1000 feet in 5km on a wide main road. Then comes a slight downhill for 3.5km, dropping about 200 feet to the town of Uriage-les-Bains. From here, the remaining 18.5km are all uphill, gaining another 4,300 feet in elevation to Chamrousse at a steady 7.2 percent. Longer than Alpe d’Huez and not quite as steep, the significant difference between the two climbs is that there are no wild swings in gradient, which are a major feature of Alpe d’Huez.

On Tuesday, Armstrong attacked his opponents on the Alpe’s steepest pitch of 11 percent just a kilometer from the start, pedaling a low gear at a high cadence varying between 85 and 100 revs per minute. In contrast, his main rival Jan Ullrich rode a much bigger gear at a slower cadence. Ullrich’s style is more suited to the Chamrousse time-trial climb as there is no stretch steeper than 9 percent and none lighter than 6.2 percent until the very last, flatter kilometer. Because of this, expect Ullrich, over the 32km distance, to at least hold Armstrong to the two-minute margin he had on the Alpe.

At a press conference following his victory at L’Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong said that he wasn’t sure how quickly he would recover from such an effort. Talking about his performance, he said, “That was everything I had right there. I couldn’t have gone any harder.” He then added, “I might pay for that effort … and I might lose two minutes tomorrow. I hope not.”

The other contenders for the Chamrousse time trial are the same riders who finished next in line behind Armstrong and Ullrich at Alpe d’Huez: Joseba Beloki of the ONCE team; Christophe Moreau of Festina; Oscar Sevilla of Kelme-Costa Blanca; and Francisco Mancebo of iBanesto.com. The other interesting battle to watch is between Armstrong (who is now fourth overall) and second-placed Andrei Kivilev of Cofidis. The American still has to make up more than eight minutes on Kivilev, who showed Tuesday by finishing in 12th place that he wouldn’t be a push over.

Armstrong will be the fourth from last of the 166 riders still in the race. He starts two minutes behind Spanish rider Beloki, four minutes behind Frenchman Moreau and six minutes after Ullrich. Armstrong will start at 4:02 p.m. local time.