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Score another for Armstrong

Lance Armstrong was in familiar territory Thursday, once again standing atop the winner’s podium, following the 17th stage of the Tour de France, a brutally difficult race from Bourg d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand. But after outsprinting German Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) in the final meters of the 204.5km stage, Armstrong said “the man of the day” was really his U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis. “He was again ... the man of the day,” said Armstrong, whose win in the final of three stages in the Alps was his third consecutive individual stage win and fourth for the Tour. But Armstrong

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Armstrong outsprints Klöden in final stretch

By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews

Armstrong pips Klöden at the line

Photo: AFP

Lance Armstrong was in familiar territory Thursday, once again standing atop the winner’s podium, following the 17th stage of the Tour de France, a brutally difficult race from Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornand. But after outsprinting German Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) in the final meters of the 204.5km stage, Armstrong said “the man of the day” was really his U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis.

“He was again … the man of the day,” said Armstrong, whose win in the final of three stages in the Alps was his third consecutive individual stage win and fourth for the Tour. But Armstrong wanted nothing more than for Landis to win the brutally tough stage that was raced in searing 95-degree temperatures.

The stage had a menu of five mountains, including the Cat. 1 Col du Glandon at 36km and the hors-categorie Col de la Madeleine at 79km. The other three climbs came in the final 75km, and while less notorious than the Glandon or Madeleine they were steep and testing — even more so in the stifling conditions.

The Glandon

The Glandon

Photo: Graham Watson

Armstrong saw a win by Landis as a fitting reward for Landis’s effort to tow him and the rest of a five-man break to the final summit of the Cat.1 Col de la Croix-Fry with 23km to go.

That Armstrong finally won was only due to him chasing down Klöden in return for German Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) reeling in Landis earlier when the Postal team worker attacked with just 1.5km to go. “He was incredible,” said Armstrong of Landis. “For him to ride tempo on the final climb and end up with five guys … that says it all. I’ve been around long enough to know that, and I have had some fast guys ride tempo on the climbs before. From our information the people there [Ullrich, Klöden and Ivan Basso] were suffering to stay there.

“I had hoped he could ride the fastest decent, basically descend to the finish and win a stage. It didn’t work out that way, but he is riding super, is a great teammate and has given everything.”

Armstrong continued to shower Landis with praise, labeling his day’s performance as “probably the best one I have ever seen. He seems to be getting better every day. Today was his best day.

Virenque on the hunt for polka dots

Virenque on the hunt for polka dots

Photo: Graham Watson

“That is why I really wanted him to win the stage. He deserved to win and for that I should dedicate this stage win to him. I think he wanted it and needed it.”

Armstrong also revealed the enlightening discourse he shared with Landis as they passed the summit of the Col de la Croix-Fry with Ullrich, Klöden and Italian Ivan Basso (CSC).

“I said to him: `How bad do you want to win a stage in the Tour de France?’” explained Armstrong of their chat just after the 11.5km ascent.

“He said, `Real bad.’ I said, `How fast can you go down hill?’ He said, `I go downhill real fast.’ He said, `Can I do it?’ I said, `Sure you can do it … run like you stole something Floyd.’”

Landis did just that. He jumped away soon after passing the summit and pounded down the long and twisting decent through the town of La Clusaz to the finish. The only rider to give chase was Ullrich.

Armstrong’s yellow jersey quickly came in sight though, and just after Landis was caught, the Texan was on Ullrich’s wheel.

“I was dropped,” Armstrong said afterward. “I was trying to take it easy and be careful, but Jan was tring to make up time on (Ivan) Basso, and Basso was dropped. Basso was also with Klöden, so to me it was in Jan’s interest to do the work.”

Basso and Klöden soon followed. But Landis was not yet finished with taking advantage of his free rein.

With 1.5km to go, the California-based rider broke free again but once more was chased by Ullrich, desperate for a stage win and to get time on Basso and to win a time bonus in the fight for a podium spot.

Then, when the five regrouped and with one kilometer still to go, Klöden bolted free and looked like stealing the Postal thunder — that is, until Armstrong unleashed his rage with 250 meters to go.

As Klöden wrestled with his pedals to try and scrape home, Armstrong — out of the saddle and lunged over his handlebars — closed in with every pedal stroke.

One more for the boss

One more for the boss

Photo: Graham Watson

Catching the German near the line and then crossing it with arms aloft, this win meant much for Armstrong — although not half as much as what it would have been had Landis won.

The win also raised talk that with four stage wins, plus the team time trial victory and a record sixth Tour victory about to be his, Armstrong is the new “Cannibal” of the cycling world.

“Am I the new cannibal? um .. no. The answer is no,” responded Armstrong when asked of his stature alongside the real Cannibal, Eddy Merckx.

However, Armstrong used the time to make one point clear: winning when he can was going to remain a priority and rivals cannot expect any “gifts.”

“When I stepped up to the podium, (Bernard) Hinault met me at the top of the steps and said: `Perfect. No gifts,’” recalled Armstrong. “No gifts this year. I have given gifts on the Tour de France and very rarely has it ever come back to help me. This is the biggest bike race in the world and it means more than any bike race in the world. It means more to me than any bike race in the world. I want to win … no gifts.”

In 2000, Armstrong eased up to allow the late Marco Pantani win a stage at Mont Ventoux and later regretted it as the two soon began a war of words as to whether the win was a “gift” or not. Armstrong has yet to win atop the Ventoux, one of the most infamous climbs in the sport.

Heras heads home; Virenque’s a lock; Simoni makes his mark
Few in the surviving peloton would have felt they came away as recipients of any gifts today. It was a flog for everyone. The field was reduced to 147 riders from the 188 who set from Belgium almost three weeks ago.

Ex-U.S. Postal rider Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) was among three not to start; and Michele Bartoli (CSC), just named to Italy’s Olympic road team, was one of five to abandon.

Two riders to come out of the stage with something to celebrate were Frenchman Richard Virenque (Quick Step) and Gilberto Simoni (Saeco).

Simoni was in the daylong break that Virenque joined after the Madeleine, and both were caught (and dropped) on the final climb.

Virenque, defending his King of the Mountains jersey, ended the day with 49 more points to add to his overnight tally of 177 points to virtually secure a record seventh claim to the polka-dot jersey.

Simoni finally found his name on the official communiqués for something other than fines or controversial time deductions. He was awarded the most combative rider award for instigating and driving the original five-man attack that Virenque later joined.

Simoni’s move began after one kilometer and lasted 180km when he was the last man standing (well, pedaling), caught at the foot of the Col de la Croix Fry by the Landis-led Armstrong group.

The names of those in the group changed throughout the day as U.S. Postal drove the peloton at a steady speed.

The break gained a maximum lead of 7:50 at 108km after the descent of the Madeleine, before being brought back under a CSC chase.

Before long, the peloton had brought the leaders’ deficit down to a matter of seconds. Spaniard Carlos Sastre and CSC teammate Basso tried to shake things up with a brief attack shortly after arriving at the foot of the Col de Frey, a category one climb over 12.8 km and the last of the day, but they were soon reeled in, and despite another attack by Sastre the Spaniard was caught by the yellow-jersey group led by Landis, which also contained Ullrich, Klöden and Basso.

The final push
Over the summit of the Col de la Croix-Frey, Armstrong gave Landis a shove, urging his teammate to go for the win, and soon the American workhorse was hurtling downhill in a bid for victory.

Klöden’s final kilometer charge gave the German champion a flying 100-meter lead. But Armstrong came from nowhere in the last 500 meters to stun Klöden on the finish line. No gifts – though perhaps a hint of regret as he dedicated the win to Landis, whom he called “the man of the day.” “I hoped he could ride a fast descent and win the stage. But it did not happen,” Armstrong said. “Floyd seems to be getting better and better every day. Today was his best day ever. That’s why I really wanted him to win the stage, I think he wanted it and needed it. “For me he deserved to win, and for that matter I should dedicate this win to him.”

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