Late bump slows Armstrong

Defending champion falls 34 seconds behind leader, losing 27 seconds in stage

Tour De France

July 14, 2002|By Bonnie DeSimone | Bonnie DeSimone,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AVRANCHES, France - Lance Armstrong is perceived to be so invulnerable that it's startling to see him take his foot off the pedal even momentarily.

Armstrong lost a little time he would rather not have lost in yesterday's stage of the Tour de France. U.S. Postal Service teammate Roberto Heras, who was in his usual position on Armstrong's back wheel, was bumped by another rider less than two miles from the end of the 109.1-mile stage and toppled into the defending champion.

Heras' handlebars had to be disengaged from Armstrong's wheel spokes while the rest of the team waited. Armstrong, who never fell but did rest his foot on the ground, gunned his bike up the final stretch and made up some of the time, but finished the day 34 seconds behind overall leader Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano of the Spanish ONCE squad.

The gap is far from a crisis for the Texan. Last year at this time, he was almost 6 minutes off the lead, and fell even farther back after a bizarre 35-minute breakaway shook up the overall standings.

"I think we all know it's not possible to ride every year without incident," said Armstrong, who added that it actually felt good to push himself, albeit briefly, after a week of laying low.

"It could have been worse," he said. "I'm honestly not concerned."

All things being equal, Armstrong would rather not have given up an extra 27 seconds two days before the Tour's first individual time trial, which is expected to provide the first real gauge of where Armstrong's challengers stand in relation to the three-time champion.

Gonzalez de Galdeano one-upped Armstrong in an individual time trial earlier this season. But that stage in the Midi Libre race was considerably shorter, and Armstrong has been dominant in longer time trials.

Postal wasn't involved in the worst carnage of the day. A late crash on the final windy, twisting part of the course left bodies sprawled on the road and in the ditches. Didier Rous, the French national champion last year and the leader of the Bonjour team, is out of the race with a broken collarbone.

France's Christophe Moreau, leader of the Credit Agricole team, bruised his tailbone and struggled to the line more than four minutes behind the winner. Spain's Oscar Freire, the world road-race champion, finished more than six minutes behind after he landed on the grass on the left side of a narrow road.

Heras and Postal's George Hincapie suffered scrapes in the incident that involved Armstrong, but escaped serious injury.

Australian Bradley McGee of the La Francaise des Jeux team won his first career Tour stage, literally upstaging Mapei's Pedro Horillo.

As McGee throttled up behind him in the final yards, Horillo, apparently misjudging the finish line, glanced over his shoulder, then took his hands off the handlebars as if he were about to raise them in celebration. In that moment, McGee swerved triumphantly around him and finished in 4 hours, 10 minutes, 56 seconds.

In windy but warm weather, the route covered Normandy from Bagnoles de l'Orne to Avranches near the Mont Saint-Michel tourist site. De Galdeano, a Spaniard with ONCE, retained the yellow jersey by four seconds over his teammate Joseba Beloki, another Spaniard. They finished 23rd and 21st in the same time as the winner. Jorg Jaksche, a German with ONCE, is now third, 12 seconds behind.

French riders, notably veteran Laurent Jalabert, are expected to press for a stage win today on Bastille Day, France's national holiday, as the race moves to the Brittany coast.

Bonnie DeSimone is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. The New York Times contributed to this article.


Seventh stage

(109-mile course from Bagnoles-de-L'Orne)

1. Bradley McGee, Australia, Francaise Des Jeux, 4 hours, 10 minutes, 56 seconds.

2. Jaan Kirsipuu, Estonia, AG2R, same time.

3. Pedro Horillo, Spain, Mapei, same time.

4. Robbie McEwen, Australia, Lotto, same time.

5. Erik Zabel, Germany, Telekom, same time.

6. Stuart O'Grady, Australia, Credit Agricole, same time.

7. Jan Svorada, Czech Republic, Lampre, same time.

8. Baden Cooke, Australia, Francaise Des Jeux, same time.

9. Fred Rodriguez, United States, Domo Farm Frites, same time.

10. Thor Hushovd, Norway, Credit Agricole, same time.

11. Andrej Hauptman, Slovenia, Tacconi, same time.

12. Francisco Mancebo, Spain,, same time.

13. Francois Simon, France, Bonjour, same time.

14. Mario Aerts, Belgium, Lotto, same time.

15. Samuel Sanchez, Spain, Euskaltel, same time.


21. Joseba Beloki, Spain, Once, same time.

23. Igor Gonzalez Galdeano, Spain, Once, same time.

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

36. Bobby Julich, United States, Telekom, same time.

37. David Millar, Britain, Cofidis, same time.

49. Tyler Hamilton, United States, CSC-Tiscali, same time.

52. Richard Virenque, France, Domo Farm Frites, same time.

91. Lance Armstrong, United States, U.S. Postal Service, 27 seconds behind.

92. Laurent Jalabert, France, CSC Tiscali, 27 seconds behind.

96. Floyd Landis, United States, USPS, 41 seconds behind.

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