With trial no tribulation, Armstrong takes stage

Yellow jersey has Texan thinking big


METZ, France -- Lance Armstrong proved yesterday that he can ride a long way with the same power and purpose that he can ride a short distance, winning the Tour de France's first extended time trial as easily as he won the brief prologue and taking a giant step toward overall victory.

Although there are two weeks left in the race and his credentials for the battle in the Alps and Pyrenees are still to be proved, Armstrong pulled on the overall leader's yellow jersey with a lead of more than two minutes over the field and four minutes over those riders considered to be his main rivals.

He seemed optimistic. "My advisers told me before the tour to expect to be stronger in the mountains than in the time trials," he said. If he can show that strength, the Texan is sitting pretty.

Armstrong, the 27-year-old leader of the U.S. Postal Service team, yesterday routed the rest of the rest of the 176-man field in the time trial over 35 miles of twisty and rolling roads.

Riding alone against the clock, he caught and passed a handful of riders who started two minutes apart before him, including Abraham Olano, the world champion in the time trial.

Armstrong rode to victory in a time of 1: 08.36, or 58 seconds faster than the second-place rider, Alex Zuelle, a Swiss with Banesto, and 2: 05 ahead of Christophe Moreau, a Frenchman with Festina, in third.

Olano was fourth and another American, Tyler Hamilton of the U.S. Postal Service team, was fifth.

The race's new leader is 2: 20 ahead of Moreau in second place and 2: 33 ahead of Olano, a Spaniard with ONCE, in third.

"It was very long and very difficult," Armstrong said after he finished, treading gingerly in his basic French during a television interview. "I'm very happy and very tired. It's one of the great victories of my life."

He received an ovation from the French public, which knows that his previous victories have included a battle in 1996 with testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. After three months of chemotherapy, he sat out the 1997 season and returned to racing full time in May last year.

Most helpful in the win was the collaboration of Hamilton, 28, who started more than three hours ahead of his team leader.

Although Hamilton finished second in the first time trial in the last tour, team strategy initially called for him not to ride this eighth of 20 stages all-out.

Saturday, that tactic changed.

"We decided I'd do the first half hard and we'd time every kilometer for Lance," he said after he finished. "It gives him a good gauge because you get only a few time splits the whole ride. Now he's going to get one every kilometer, off me.

"After the first half," Hamilton continued, "they said if I was doing well, I could keep going."

He was doing so well after the first timing that he was leading the race. By the second, Hamilton was the fastest man to that point, but Zuelle, who left two minutes after him, was 19 seconds faster. That lead widened to the finish.

Eighth stage

(35-mile time trial, Metz)

1. Lance Armstrong, United States, U.S. Postal Service, 1 hour, 8 minutes, 36 seconds.

2. Alexander Zulle, Switzerland, Banesto, 58 seconds behind.

3. Christophe Moreau, France, Festina, 2 minutes, 5 seconds behind.

4. Abraham Olano, Spain, ONCE, 2: 22

5. Tyler Hamilton, United States, U.S. Postal Service, 3: 31

6. Chris Boardman, United Kingdom, Credit Agricole, 3: 32

7. Alvaro Gonzalez Galdeano, Spain, Vitalicio, 3: 41

8. Jens Voigt, Germany, Credit Agricole, 3: 42

9. Stuart O'Grady, Australia, Credit Agricole, 3: 45

10. Laurent Dufaux, Switzerland, Saeco, 3: 56

11. Andrea Peron, Italy, ONCE, 3: 59

12. Daniele Nardello, Italy, Mapei, 4: 12

13. Santos Gonzalez, Spain, ONCE, 4: 12

14. Angel Casero, Spain, Vitalicio, 4: 35

15. Luis Perez Rodriquez, Spain, ONCE, 4: 39

Overall standings

1. Armstrong, 33 hours, 34: 16 seconds.

2. Moreau, 2 minutes, 22 seconds behind

3. Olano, 2: 33

4. O'Grady, 3: 25

5. Gonzalez Galdeano, 4: 10

6. Voigt, 4: 10

7. Dufaux, 4: 19

8. Peron, 4: 22

9. Gonzales, 4: 37

10. Nardello, 4: 46

11. Jaan Kirsipuu, 4: 57

12. Casero, 5: 01

13. Pavel Tonkov, Russian, Mapei, 5: 10

14. Magnus Backstedt, Sweden, Credit Agricole, 5: 15

15. Perez Rodriquez, 5: 17

Pub Date: 7/12/99

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