Armstrong surrenders yellow jersey in 9th stage

He falls to 3rd but loses no time to rivals as Voigt takes over lead

Tour de France

July 11, 2005|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MULHOUSE, France - Lance Armstrong happily relinquished his yellow jersey yesterday, handing over the honor of being No. 1 at the Tour de France to German Jens Voigt.

But with the honor comes the pressure of defending the sunny shirt. Armstrong and his weary Discovery Channel teammates seemed content to give the role of leader to Voigt and his CSC teammates after yesterday's ninth stage, a 106.3-mile roller-coaster trip up and down six big hills through the Vosges mountains of eastern France.

The stage winner was an ecstatic Dane. Mickael Rasmussen, a former mountain biker, was the first man over each of the six climbs. Rasmussen finished in a time of 4 hours, 8 minutes, 20 seconds, won his first-ever Tour stage and moved up to fourth place overall. Voigt finished 3:04 behind Rasmussen while Armstrong was 28th and in the middle of the peloton that was 2:18 behind Voigt.

To the delight of the thousands of fans who stuck it out through high winds and occasional rain, Frenchman Christophe Moreau is second overall, 1:50 behind Voigt. Moreau and Voigt finished the stage together and raised their arms triumphantly.

Armstrong is now third, though he lost no time to the men considered his top competitors. The T-Mobile trio of Alexandre Vinokourov (fifth, 1:02 behind Armstrong); Jan Ullrich (eighth, 1:36 behind Armstrong) and Andreas Kloeden (11th, 1:50 behind) remain well positioned, as does Voigt's teammate Ivan Basso, who is seventh, 1:26 behind Armstrong.

The important thing to take away from yesterday's racing is that his teammates rode strongly and stayed with him, Armstrong said. On Saturday, Armstrong, 33, found himself alone on the final climb and in the midst of the strongest of CSC and T-Mobile racers.

"We don't need the yellow jersey," Armstrong said. "We don't need to keep it through the Alps. We need to have it at the end. I felt like today might be the day when the jersey was given away and that's how it turned out."

It's worth noting that last year Armstrong took the yellow jersey after the team time trial, then gave it up for the next 10 days to Frenchman Thomas Voeckler. This year he won yellow again after the team time trial but defended the yellow for five days.

"As I keep saying, it's not important to have yellow now," Armstrong said. "It's important July 24."

Voigt, 33, is not considered a serious threat to win the Tour, though he wore the yellow jersey once before in 2001. "I don't think anybody expects me to be in first coming out of the mountains," Voigt said. "Today was my very last chance to take the jersey."

But Voigt's hope is that he hands off the yellow to Basso, his young teammate who stuck with Armstrong last year in the mountains before finishing third overall. "It would be ideal if that happens," Voigt said. "I'm not complaining. You can't have it all. At CSC we are all riding for Basso. We are going to protect him."

After the first of two rest days in the 21-stage journey today, the Tour resumes tomorrow with big climbs to the ski resort of Courchevel. It is the kind of stage where the T-Mobile riders are likely to attack Armstrong and Discovery Channel again.

Ullrich, who won the 1997 Tour and finished second five times since, had more bad luck. The German, who crashed into a team car on a practice ride the day before this Tour began, skidded off the bike again on a descent. Ullrich said he was toppled by a gust of wind. "I had a big crash," he said. "I did three or four somersaults. He said his right side hurt but that he expected to be fine by tomorrow.

Rasmussen was clearly determined to make yesterday a special day as well. He took off for the lead in the first 10 miles of the stage and he never gave it up. Last winter Rasmussen, who won the world cross-country cycling title in 1997, said he canvassed this stage because, he said, "I thought it would be possible for me to win. So I knew what was coming, and I think that was an advantage. Ever since I started cycling I was dreaming about winning a stage like today. It's the only thing I'm good at. Climbing mountains."

Armstrong's Discovery Channel teammates looked as if they liked climbing mountains, too. On Saturday, with the exception of Armstrong, the "blue train" as the team is called, was more like the "blue buggy," with Armstrong pulling his stragglers up.

"We were better today," Armstrong said. "That's a good thing going into the rest day. Now we regroup and get ready for the big climbs."

The one dark moment for CSC was that American David Zabriskie, who wore the yellow jersey a week ago before crashing in the team trial, gave into his slashed elbow and swollen knee and dropped out.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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