Armstrong teammates share in spotlight

He keeps lead

Savoldelli sprints to give Discovery 2nd stage win in 4 days

Tour De France

July 21, 2005|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

REVEL, France - For six years, Lance Armstrong was the only member of his team to win a stage at the Tour de France. Now in a matter of four days, two of Armstrong's Discovery Channel teammates have crossed the finish line first. Sunday, it was loyal lieutenant George Hincapie winning the toughest mountain stage of the 2005 race. And yesterday it was Italian Paolo Savoldelli grabbing the lead with 100 meters to go and winning the longest stage of this Tour.

Savoldelli, 32, outsprinted Kurt-Asle Arvesen of Norway to win the 148.8-mile run from Pau. The route took the riders over four small climbs and Salvoldelli finished in a time of 5 hours, 41 minutes, 19 seconds. Armstong's lead remained at 2:46 over second-place Ivan Basso of Italy and 3:09 over third-place Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark. Jan Ullrich, considered Armstrong's top challenger before the Tour, is still fourth, 5:58 behind.

Ullrich's T-Mobile teammate Alexandre Vinokourov, another pre-race favorite, moved from ninth to seventh place, passing Australian Cadel Evans and American Floyd Landis, after announcing he would not renew his contract with T-Mobile. Another T-Mobile racer, 2004 runner-up Andreas Kloeden, withdrew from the race after breaking a wrist Tuesday in a crash.

So relaxed is six-time defending champion Armstrong that he mugged for television cameras several times during yesterday's stage. Barring an unforeseen crash or illness, he is expected to win his seventh consecutive title Sunday in Paris before he retires to his home in Texas.

"I'm happy because my team was great again," said Armstrong, who has yet to win an individual stage this year. "It couldn't be better."

Armstrong finished 22:28 behind the winner. He said he was pedaling along when he heard the news in his earpiece from team director Johan Bruyneel.

"It was surreal," Armstrong said. "We all looked at each other and said, `Did he just say Paolo won the stage?'"

Salvoldelli is the newest member of the Discovery Channel team. He rode with Ullrich's T-Mobile squad a year ago and did nothing spectacular while battling injuries the past two years.

Bruyneel, though, said he signed Salvoldelli because he respected the Italian's strength in the mountains. When Landis defected from the team last fall, Bruyneel called Salvoldelli.

In what he called his greatest season so far, Salvoldelli won his second Giro d'Italia in May and now his first Tour stage.

"It's a very lucky year for me," Salvoldelli said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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