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Sprinters lining up for Armstrong’s yellow jersey

Three years ago, Lance Armstrong was ecstatic when he won the Tourde France prologue at Le Puy du Fou. Tears filled his eyes as he slippedon the first yellow jersey of his career. Saturday, in a finally sunnyLuxembourg City, there were no tears, just the satisfaction of a job welldone when Armstrong was awarded the Tour yellow jersey for the 36th time.What a difference three years can make….Some things will likely stay the same, though, because two days aftertaking the lead at the 1999 Tour Armstrong conceded the yellow jersey toa sprinter, Jaan Kirsipuu. The Estonian achieved that feat by

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By John Wilcockson

Three years ago, Lance Armstrong was ecstatic when he won the Tourde France prologue at Le Puy du Fou. Tears filled his eyes as he slippedon the first yellow jersey of his career. Saturday, in a finally sunnyLuxembourg City, there were no tears, just the satisfaction of a job welldone when Armstrong was awarded the Tour yellow jersey for the 36th time.What a difference three years can make….Some things will likely stay the same, though, because two days aftertaking the lead at the 1999 Tour Armstrong conceded the yellow jersey toa sprinter, Jaan Kirsipuu. The Estonian achieved that feat by winning stage1, placing second on stage 2 and collecting some intermediate sprint timebonuses, to amass more than the 36 seconds he conceded in the prologue.After this year’s opener, a whole contingent of sprinters is closerto Armstrong than Kirsipuu was in ’99. Three are Australians: Baden Cookeof fdj.com, Stuart O’Grady of Crédit Agricole and Robbie McEwenof Lotto-Adecco. Two are Germans: Danilo Hondo and Erik Zabel of Telekom.One is Spanish: world champion Oscar Freire of Mapei-Quick Step. And oneis Estonian: Kirsipuu of AG2R.The best placed of these seven is young Cooke, just 20 seconds behindthe Texan. The 23-year-old from Victoria is not a conventional field sprinterlike Kirsipuu or Zabel, but the finish if stage 1 is unlikely to end ina conventional sprint. That’s because — besides the stage’s hills favoringbreakaways — the last kilometer to the finish straight is a long uphillgrind that should suit Cooke more than those other sprinters.DETAILSOF STAGE 1: Luxembourg to Luxembourg, 192.5km.
Intermediate sprints at Heiderscheid (50km), Echternach (117.5km) andRemich (160km). Cat. 3 climbs at Hoscheid (69.5km) and Wormeldange (148.5km),and Cat. 4 climbs at Vianden (87km) and  Hostert (182km).