Armstrong stays back, still 2 seconds behind

He avoids late pileup

Boonen takes Stage 2

Zabriskie still on top

Tour De France

July 04, 2005|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LES ESSARTS, France - Done with the opening festivities and the restless, single-file, first-day time trial, the Tour de France settled into the soft rhythm of racing in the flats yesterday.

Six-time defending champion Lance Armstrong stayed safe in the cocoon of his Discovery Channel team protectors, finishing in 63rd place in the 112.5-mile run from Challans and in second place overall.

Fellow American Dave Zabriskie, the surprise winner of Saturday's time trial, held the leader's yellow jersey for at least one more day. His advantage stayed at two seconds over Armstrong.

It was left to Belgium's Tom Boonen to out-sprint Norway's Thor Hushovd and Australia's Robbie McEwen in a furious finish. Boonen, who rides for Quik Step, won the stage in 3 hours, 51 minutes, 31 seconds.

Boonen almost pulled out of the race Saturday when he suffered an abscessed tooth. After a trip to the dentist and a dose of antibiotics, Boonen, who won two stages last year, was at the starting line yesterday.

"It's very nice to get a win this early," Boonen said. "The first win is always important. It took me longer last year. Now, I feel relaxed."

With less than two miles left, there was a massive pileup started by the fall of French rider Samuel Dumoulin when he lost control of his bike. It is these manic finishes in close quarters during the early, sprinting days when the 189-man field has not been culled by injuries or the toll of the mountains that the leading contenders fear.

Two years ago Armstrong, 33, took a hard fall in a similar crash. "These finishes still scare me," said Armstrong, who is riding in his final competition before retirement. "I won't miss them. Everybody is a bit nervous, everybody is cracking a little bit, there's just a lot happening."

Armstrong said that "my legs were terrible," but then he smiled. "Actually, I feel pretty good. I figure the faster I pedal, the faster I can retire."

Germany's Jan Ullrich, who had been embarrassingly passed by Armstrong in Saturday's time trial, said he felt better yesterday. Ullrich remained in 12th place overall, 1:06 behind Armstrong.

Ullrich, riding for T-Mobile, had crashed into a team car in a Friday training ride. "That's got to affect you a little bit," Armstrong said. "We can't take anything from his performance [Saturday]. It would be a mistake to think he won't be better in a few days time."

Today's 132-mile stage from La Chataigneraie to Tours, a city set on the Loire River and in the midst of the chateaux and vineyards, is numbingly flat and another stage given to the sprinters.

The hotly anticipated team trial is scheduled for tomorrow and it is possible the Discovery Channel team may try to make a move or two. Discovery Channel trails Zabriskie's Team CSC by four seconds. Tomorrow's starting positions are determined by the combined times of the teams so far, with the fastest team taking off last. There is an advantage in knowing what the other teams are doing.

"All I'll say is my goal Monday is to stay safe," Armstrong said. "That's it."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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