After three punishing days in the Alps and with temperatures stiflingly hot, Lance Armstrong and his main rivals in the Tour de France were happy Tuesday to let others take the glory for once.
Armstrong finished in a large pack of riders who completed the 219.5km 10th stage from Gap to the southern port city of Marseille more than 21 minutes behind the winner, Jakob Piil of Team CSC. It was the Dane's first Tour de France stage win.
Piil was in a group of nine riders who broke away from the main pack just 16km into the race. Because Piil and the others are not serious threats to their Tour ambitions, Armstrong and other big-hitters did not bother chasing after them.
Crushing summer heat and hot winds again made conditions tough. Road temperatures along the route hit 46℃, and the air temperature at the finish in Marseille was 35℃, Tour organizers said.
"It's definitely the hottest Tour that most of us can remember," said Armstrong, the four-time champion aiming to match Miguel Indurain's record of five successive wins.
"We've always had hot days but never so many in a row," he said.
Tuesday's hilly but not mountainous course took the riders away from the Alps, where Armstrong took the overall lead from the first time in this three-week Tour. Racers had a rest day yesterday before racing resumes today with a 153.5km stage from Narbonne to Toulouse.
Armstrong said his next big objective comes tomorrow, with time trials where he hopes to put distance between rivals snapping at his heels.
"It's maybe the most important time trial I've ever done in the Tour," the 31-year-old Texan said.
The 47km race against the clock goes over a hilly course, which should favor strong climbers like Armstrong.
1. Lance Armstrong, US, 45 hours, 46 minutes, 22 seconds.
2. Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan, 21 seconds behind.
3. Iban Mayo, Spain, 1:02 behind.
4. Francisco Mancebo, Spain, 1:37 behind.
5. Tyler Hamilton, US, 1:52 behind.
6. Jan Ullrich, Germany, 2:10 behind.
7. Ivan Basso, Italy, 2:25 behind.
8. Roberto Heras, Spain, 2:28 behind.
9. Haimar Zubeldia, Spain, 3:25 behind.
10. Denis Menchov, Russia, 3:45 behind.
"I know the course pretty well," he said. "I've been focusing a lot on the time trial this year in terms of training."
Armstrong, easy to spot in his overall leader's bright yellow jersey, finished Tuesday in 45th place, 21 minutes and 23 seconds behind Piil.
Rivals who finished in the same time as Armstrong included Alexandre Vinokourov, in 53rd place, Iban Mayo of Spain in 42nd place, 1997 winner Jan Ullrich in 34th place and American rider Tyler Hamilton in 36th place.
Vinokourov, a Kazak rider for Team Telekom, is still second overall, 21 seconds behind Armstrong. Mayo, a Euskaltel-Euskadi rider, is third overall, still 1 minute and 2 seconds back.
"Besides having a long, hot day, there's nothing to add," said Armstrong's spokesman, Jogi Muller. "Overall, nothing has changed."
Armstrong will see his wife, Kristin, and their three young children on the rest day, Muller said. Armstrong said he'd also train, sleep and "just take it easy."
Piil's group of nine riders rode for more than 200km in front of Armstrong's main pack, the longest breakway so far of this year's Tour.
Piil beat Italian rider Fabio Sacchi of the Saeco team in a final sprint at the finish. Bram de Groot of the Netherlands, with the Rabobank team, was third.