Armstrong doubles his lead, winning again in mountains

He drops Beloki 2:28 back

teammate Heras second

Tour De France

July 20, 2002|By Bonnie DeSimone | Bonnie DeSimone,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PLATEAU DE BEILLE, France - Lance Armstrong sank another ice pick into the side of a mountain yesterday, doubling his lead over his closest Tour de France competitor. Unlike the previous day, he had time and energy to strike a summit pose.

Armstrong had partially unzipped his leader's yellow jersey in the glaring 80-degree heat. As the Texan approached the finish line, he brought the zipper back up the way a lawyer would smooth his tie before delivering a final argument. Then he clapped his hands over his head.

"I've never celebrated any victory before the final lap on the Champs-Elysees, and I won't this year," said Armstrong, who extended his cumulative margin over Spain's Joseba Beloki to 2 minutes, 28 seconds with eight stages remaining in the three-week race.

But it certainly looks as if Armstrong has the field by the neck. In a Stage 12 that was a virtual replay of the previous day, he and his U.S. Postal Service teammates waited until the last climb to state their case.

Armstrong hitched a long ride from Jose Luis Rubiera and a brief one from Roberto Heras - who would finish second on the day, 1:04 behind Armstrong. The American catapulted past Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, a longtime rival who will retire after this year's world championships.

Jalabert did earn the polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber in the race, based on bonus points from intermediate climbs. He finished 49th, however, over 11 minutes back.

Time can evaporate quickly in the mountains, but if Armstrong continues to ride with the forcefulness of the last two days and Postal keeps up its near-perfect baton passes to put him in position, the team can turn its attention to a secondary goal: getting superlative sidekick Roberto Heras a place on the podium.

Teammates have finished one-two in the Tour three times in the last 17 years, most recently in 1996, when Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich of Team Telekom stood a step apart. Bernard Hinault and American Greg LeMond traded first and second places when they rode for La Vie Claire in 1985 and 1986.

"In the short term, we'd like to get him a stage win," Armstrong said of Heras, who gave him a brief pull up the last climb and registered the same time as third-place finisher Beloki. "It's a dream to have two guys on the same podium - an indication of having one of the strongest teams in cycling."

Short term, however, the round dome of Mont Ventoux is renting the most space in Armstrong's close-cropped head. He has said repeatedly that winning on the barren mountain in Provence, which the riders will climb at the end of a long, flat Stage 14 tomorrow, is among his priorities.

France's Jalabert led in a solo breakaway for three-quarters of the stage. But the heat and the gradient on the winding, narrow road up to the cow pastures atop this 5,687-foot shelf claimed him and cleaved the peloton into small groups.

Rabobank leader Levi Leipheimer, who managed to struggle up in 13th place, 2:47 behind Armstrong, estimated he drank 20 bottles of water over the course of the afternoon.

Bonnie DeSimone is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

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