Mellow ride in Pyrenees keeps Armstrong in yellow

He's in lead for 78th time, tying for second all time

Tour de France

July 20, 2005|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PAU, France - While two Spaniards were battling in the heat and hysteria of countrymen who lined the Pyrenees roads, Lance Armstrong was just a boy on his bike, feeling free and unhurried and blissfully refreshed.

In a stage that included the final hors categorie - without ranking - climb of his career, Armstrong finished Stage 16 of the 2005 Tour de France wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey for the 78th time in his career.

That tied him for second on the race's all-time list with French hero Bernard Hinault. Armstrong said he never kept track of such statistics, but he felt honored, adding, "I don't deserve to be considered in that class."

Armstrong broke a historical tie with Hinault last year when he won his record-setting sixth consecutive Tour. A seventh should come Sunday in Paris on the day Armstrong, 33, said he will retire.

Spaniard Oscar Pereiro of the Phonak team won yesterday's 112.2-mile stage from Mourenx to Pau in 4 hours, 38 minutes, 40 seconds. Armstrong, of the Discovery Channel team, kept his 2:46 lead over Italy's Ivan Basso. Denmark's Mickael Rassmussen remained third, 3:09 out, with five-time runner-up Jan Ullrich of Germany fourth, 5:58 behind.

"Nothing's for sure," Armstrong said. "Stuff can still happen."

Indeed, 2004 runner up Andreas Kloeden of Ullrich's T-Mobile squad broke his right wrist in a crash with teammate Matthias Kessler, making him questionable for the start of today's rolling 148.8-mile stage between Pau and Revel, near Toulouse.

And Andrey Kashechkin of Kazakhstan suffered a bloodied nose when a fan smashed him in the face with a thunder stick.

Last year, Armstrong was spit at and shoved during a mountain stage time trial. But yesterday he rode effortlessly and safely in the middle of the peloton.

"That was probably my best day on the bike," Armstrong said. "I don't know why. I don't have an explanation for it but I was just totally confident and the team was very strong. I know we joke about riding with no chain on the bike. Well, today there was no chain."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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