For overall leader Armstrong, the end is near

Three stages stand in way of seventh title, retirement

Tour De France

July 22, 2005|By Philip Hersh | Philip Hersh,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MENDE, France - As they neared yesterday's Tour de France stage finish, George Hincapie pointed out to teammate Lance Armstrong that there were only 350 kilometers, about 217 miles, left before the ultimate finish Sunday in Paris.

To that, Armstrong replied, "Why don't we just keep going? The sooner it's done, the better."

With his record-breaking seventh straight Tour victory all but a formality, Armstrong is beginning to smell retirement, and it smells a lot like the beer and burritos it has pained him to shun since he dedicated himself to becoming one of the greatest cyclists in history.

"Honestly, I'm ready for the end, ready for this career to be over and move to something else," he said. Armstrong moved 117 miles closer, retaining his comfortable lead in the overall standings while finishing 12th in yesterday's stage, won by Marcus Serrano of Spain, who stands 40th overall.

Once again, Armstrong and his Discovery Channel teammates easily covered the only two attacks of consequence, one each on the final two climbs. Once again, no one could challenge his dominance.

"I don't want to say I never have felt threatened, because it sounds like you have a big head," Armstrong said. "But I have felt pretty good this Tour.

"The [other teams'] tactics have been aggressive but very predictable. Things have gone smooth - smoother than I expected."

Armstrong has worn the leader's jersey for the past eight of the 18 stages completed. Three remain, including the ceremonial entry to Paris, where the leader sips champagne en route and only the sprinters race for the day's victory.

His closest challenger, Ivan Basso of Italy, tried to attack on the final serious climb of the Tour, the Category 2 that ended a mile before the finish. Basso found Armstrong quickly on his wheel and settled for crossing the line with the same time as the man in yellow.

The day's most significant events involved 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich of Germany and former mountain biker Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark. Ullrich gained 37 seconds, leaving him 2:12 behind Rasmussen in the race for the third place.

Armstrong predicted Ullrich would gain enough in tomorrow's 35-mile time trial to make the podium. "Jan is looking stronger and stronger," Armstrong said. "He might be the favorite for Saturday."

If Armstrong does not win the time trial, he will finish without a stage victory for the first time in his championship years. He won five stages last year, one in 2003, four in 2002 and 2001, one in 2000 and four in 1999.

It seemed a few days ago Armstrong might go for yesterday's stage, but he settled for a safe finish, 11:18 behind the winner.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


18th stage

105 miles from Albi to Mende

1. Marcos Serrano, Liberty Seguros, 4 hours, 37 minutes, 36 seconds. 2. Cedric Vasseur, Cofidis, 27 seconds behind. 3. Axel Vasseur, Davitamon-Lotto, same time. 4. Xavier Xandio, Illes Balears, 1:08. 5. Franco Pellizotti, Liquigas-Bianchi, same time.

6. Thomas Voeckler, Bouygues Telecom, 1:28. 7. Luke Roberts, CSC, same time. 8. Matthias Kessler, T-Mobile, 1:44. 9. Egoi Martinez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 2:03. 10. Carlos Da Cruz, Francaise des Jeux, 2:38.

11. Cadel Evans, Davitamon-Lotto, 11:18. 12. Lance Armstrong, Discovery Channel, same time. 13. Ivan Basso, CSC, same time. 14. Jan Ullrich, T-Mobile, same time. 15. Alexandre Vinokourov, T-Mobile, 11:55.

16. Mickael Rasmussen, Rabobank, same time. 17. Levi Leipheimer, Gerolsteiner, same time. 18. Francisco Mancebo, Illes Balears, same time. 19. Leonardo Piepoli, Saunier Duval, 12:01. 20. Floyd Landis, Phonak, 12:07.


25. Yaroslav Popovych, Discovery Channel, 12:44. 28. Bobby Julich, CSC, 12:58. 29. George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, same time. 69. Jose Azevedo, Discovery Channel, 19:01. 74. Jose Luis Rubiera, Discovery Channel, same time.

75. Paolo Savoldelli, Discovery Channel, same time. 93. Guido Trenti, Quick Step, 21:03. 113. Pavel Padrnos, Discovery Channel, same time. 121. Christopher Horner, Saunier Duval, same time. 124. Benjamin Noval, Discovery Channel, same time.

154. Fred Rodriguez, Davitamon-Lotto, 22:07.

Overall standings

1. Lance Armstrong, Discovery Channel, 77 hours, 44 minutes, 44 seconds. 2. Ivan Basso, CSC, 2:46 behind. 3. Mickael Rasmussen, Rabobank, 3:46. 4. Jan Ullrich, T-Mobile, 5:58. 5. Francisco Mancebo, Illes Balears, 7:08.

6. Levi Leipheimer, Gerolsteiner, 8:12. 7. Cadel Evans, Davitamon-Lotto, 9:49. 8. Alexandre Vinokourov, T-Mobile, 10:11. 9. Floyd Landis, Phonak, 10:42. 10. Christophe Moreau, Credit Agricole, 13:15.

11. Eddy Mazzoleni, Lampre, 15:13. 12. Yaroslav Popovych, Discovery Channel, 15:53. 13. Oscar Pereiro, Phonak, 17:10. 14. Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 17:26. 15. Oscar Sevilla, T-Mobile, 20:06.

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