Armstrong's quick win serves up a warning

Casual prologue victory displays form to field

Tour De France

July 07, 2002|By Bonnie DeSimone | Bonnie DeSimone,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LUXEMBOURG - Defending Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong could have chosen to start yesterday's Tour de France prologue in the leader's yellow jersey. Like many athletes, however, he prefers clothing that's a little broken in.

Unlike most athletes, Armstrong has enough talent to win even when he doesn't mean to.

Armstrong rose in the saddle on the last grade, pumping hard but smoothly as he won the 4.3-mile time trial in 9 minutes, 8 seconds - two seconds better than France's Laurent Jalabert.

"I don't know that it's right to start in the yellow jersey," Armstrong said. "That's last year. I prefer to look down and see a team jersey and say to myself the yellow one is out there and you have to earn that."

In one of the Tour's quirks, it's not necessarily the best idea to win this preamble when you have designs on overall victory.

Armstrong and his royal-blue-clad U.S. Postal teammates are already marked men. Now, they will have to decide whether to try to keep the jersey or cede it to a more sprint-oriented team in the initial flat stages, conserving strength for the mountains.

"I'm 100 percent confident in our team, but I don't know that any team can defend the yellow jersey for three weeks," said Armstrong, who also won the prologue in 1999.

That victory, in his first Tour de France after recovering from cancer, was a pleasant surprise. So was yesterday's, he said.

"I'm happier than you think," he said, looking relaxed at a post-stage news conference. Armstrong has won 12 Tour stages since 1993.

Jalabert, last year's top climbing specialist, figuratively doffed his hat to the Texan.

"As in Formula One, you have to choose the best route and the best gear," Jalabert said of the all-out sprint. "I did fine, but I forgot about the blue rocket."

Bonnie DeSimone is a reporter for The Chicago Tribune.

In Luxembourg

4.34-mile individual time trial

1. Lance Armstrong, United States, U.S. Postal Service, 9 minutes, 8 seconds.

2. Laurent Jalabert, France, CSC Tiscali, 2 seconds behind.

3. Raimondas Rumsas, Lithuania, Lampre-Daikin, 3 seconds.

4. Santiago Botero, Colombia, Kelme, 4 seconds.

5. David Millar, Britain, Cofidis, 5 seconds.

6. Laurent Brochard, France, Jean Delatour, 6 seconds.

7. Dario Frigo, Italy, Tacconi Sport, 8 seconds.

8. Igor Gonzalez Galdeano, Spain, Once, 9 seconds.

9. Joseba Beloki, Spain, Once, 13 seconds.

10. Laszlo Bodrogi, Hungary, Mapei-Quick Step, same time.

11. Bradley McGee, Australia, FDJeux.com, same time.

12. Francisco Mancebo, Spain, Ibanesto.com, 14 seconds.

13. Antonio Tauler, Spain, Kelme-Costa Blanca, 15 seconds.

14. Inigo Cuesta, Spain, Cofidis, same time.

15. Serhiy Honchar, Ukraine, Fassa Bortolo, same time. Also 16. Tyler Hamilton, United States, CSC Tiscali, 16 seconds.

18. Levi Leipheimer, United States, Rabobank, same time.

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