Armstrong makes up some of lost time

Botero surprisingly wins time trial

3-time champ is :26 behind overall leader

Tour De France

July 16, 2002|By Bonnie DeSimone | Bonnie DeSimone,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LORIENT, France -- It's a tiny knothole in a high, thick wall, but there are going to be a lot of riders crowded around it, savoring the glimpse of daylight.

For the first time since 1999, when his string of three Tour de France victories began, Lance Armstrong lost an extended individual time trial. Colombia's Santiago Botero flashed across the line yesterday in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 18 seconds, besting Armstrong by 11 seconds.

"I can't lie and say I'm not disappointed with today," Armstrong said.

The three-time defending champion still carved eight seconds from the margin between him and overall leader Igor Gonzalez Galdeano over the 32.3-mile course, and is now in second place, 26 seconds behind.

"I'm still convinced Armstrong is No. 1," Botero said. "There wasn't a big time gap. This makes the Tour a little more colorful."

But the slightest hint of vulnerability in Armstrong's carbon-fiber facade is sure to encourage the handful of climbers who have a chance to challenge him in the mountains. Botero and Armstrong's other rivals hope to see a rainbow spectrum of jerseys in the mountain finishes rather than the monochromatic navy of U.S. Postal. Kelme's lime green and royal blue stripes could figure in, as Botero won the climbing title in the Tour two years ago.

The ONCE squad alternates between rose and yellow uniforms and has two riders who could paint the summits pastel: Gonzalez Galdeano and Joseba Beloki, who finished third in the Tour in 2000 and 2001.

Galdeano Gonzalez finished fourth, 19 seconds behind Botero. "I think I scored some points on Armstrong today," he said. "We'll see in the mountains if he's still super-Armstrong. There's some uncertainty, but we're optimistic and we're in good shape. The race is more open now."

A composed Armstrong emerged from the U.S. Postal team van about a half-hour after his ride into mosh-pit bedlam. With Postal staff and his personal bodyguard holding back a crowd of fans about 25 deep, he paused to speak to reporters.

"The other [time trials] I've won in the past have been days where I felt really, really good," he said. "This one was just a steady effort. I didn't feel like I was really going fast, whereas in the past sometimes, I'd think, `Man, I'm really going fast.' Today I didn't have that feeling. In light of that, it's not bad to be where I am."

Were it not for a little jostling in the homestretch of Saturday's seventh state, Armstrong would have taken the overall lead by one second yesterday. His teammate, Roberto Heras, swerved into him after being bumped, and the ensuing tangle cost Armstrong 27 seconds.

"It's different from what we expected," Armstrong said of his positioning. "There's a lot of responsibility with the jersey, so perhaps it's a blessing. We'll ride like we always do in the mountains, with a fast tempo and aggressive attacking. ... When you're behind, there's two ways to make up time. Either they crack, or you have a great day and you make up time. We'll see how things go.

"I thought I would be close to the stage win, but I honestly gave Galdeano an excellent chance, if not 100 percent, to keep the jersey. He's a [time trial] specialist, and 34 seconds is a long time [to make up] on a true specialist. I was prepared to not take the jersey."

The riders will fly from Brittany to Bordeaux this morning on the first of two rest days during the three-week race. The race moves into the foothills of the Pyrenees in tomorrow's 10th stage and into high altitude in earnest the next day.

Two other top U.S. riders had a star-crossed day.

A flat tire about nine miles from the finish left Tyler Hamilton wondering what might have been. "I was going good," said the CSC-Tiscali co-leader, who remains in ninth place overall but backslid to 2 minutes, 30 seconds off the pace. "It was disappointing. It's a lottery -- bad luck."

Rabobank leader Levi Leipheimer struggled with the hot, windy conditions and saw two more minutes evaporate, although he actually leapfrogged in the standings to 22nd.

"I felt like there was a headwind or a crosswind the whole way. I did my best, but I'm a small guy and I lost a lot of time," said Leipheimer, now 4:39 off the pace.

"I'll be satisfied when I push myself to the limit of what I can do. I know I'm capable of more."

Bonnie DeSimone is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

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