Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Armstrong says laggards spoil Tour

TOUR DE FRANCE Five-time champion Lance Armstrong offered some unsolicited advice, suggesting that a time trial be held in the first week to reduce the race field

AP , SAINT-BRIEUC, FRANCEAP, CHATEAUBRIANT, FRANCE

Spaniard Francisco Mancebo of team Illes Balears/Spa, breaks away from the pack during the seventh stage of the 91st Tour de France cycling race between Chateaubriant and Saint-Brieuc, France, Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

Lance Armstrong says Tour de France organizers could do more to calm jumpy riders and avoid spills that could mar his record hopes.

For a second straight day Saturday, the five-time champion offered unsolicited pointers for Tour managers. He suggested that a time trial be held in the often nervy first week, to thin the number of race favorites.

Sending riders out one-by-one against the clock would leave just the fastest with a realistic chance of winning the three-week Tour. Laggards would fall by the wayside, reducing the field of contenders. That, in turn, could leave fewer racers jostling each day at the front of the race -- a recipe for crashes.

"The race needs a time trial in the first week because it's too nervous without it," Armstrong said. "It's safer for the event to establish some order in the group and we're still another week away from figuring out who the hell's going to be in the front."

A day earlier, Armstrong had said the finish of Friday's stage was too narrow. A pile-up left some riders badly hurt.

As the 32-year-old battles for a record sixth title, young riders are stealing the show.

Outpacing two last challengers, Italian hope Filippo Pozzato bolted to victory in Saturday's 204.5km ride from Chateaubriant to Saint-Brieuc in Brittany. At 22, Pozzato is the Tour's youngest rider.

French champion Thomas Voeckler, 25, holds the overall leader's yellow jersey.

Armstrong, who aims to recover the lead by Tour's end in Paris on July 25, was 55th Saturday -- 10 seconds behind Pozzato. Armstrong rival Jan Ullrich of Germany, the 1997 Tour winner, placed 30th, in the same time as the Texan.

Overall, Armstrong remained in sixth place, 9 minutes and 35 seconds behind Voeckler. Ullrich is still 55 seconds behind Armstrong.

Pozzato's win was the first bright spot for Italians. Two top Italian sprinters -- Alessandro Petacchi and Mario Cipollini -- withdrew with injuries this week. Gilberto Simoni, an outside threat to Armstrong, nearly quit Saturday after an injury in the mass crash Friday.

A dozen riders have withdrawn so far from the Tour, mostly with injuries. Tyler Hamilton, an American with Phonak, was embroiled in Friday's pileup and hurt his back but is racing on.

"I wasn't feeling so hot," said the Marblehead, Massachusetts, native. Phonak sporting director Jacques Michaud said Hamilton whacked his back against the pedals of another rider's bike.

Racers faced brief showers, windy conditions and fans in the last 10km who lit smoky flares and spilled onto the course. But Armstrong said there was little flair to the stage -- just what the doctor ordered after a week of rain-soaked roads and crashes galore.

"I thought you'd have more spice in the race, but I think guys are tired and stressed from all the crashes," said the Texan, who was bruised but not badly hurt in a tumble Friday.

Belgian cyclist Christophe Brandt is out of the Tour de France after failing a drug test.

Hendrik Redant, coach of Brandt's Italian team Lotto-Domo, said Brandt was sent home Friday after testing positive for methadone, a drug typically used to help recovering heroin addicts.

Brandt was the first rider to fail a drug test at this Tour. He suggested that a laboratory error might be to blame and said he was awaiting results of a follow-up test.

"I've had a dozen tests this year and they were all negative," the rider told Belgium's RTBF television. "There are two possible explanations. Either it's a handling error at the laboratory ... or, well, we'll have to dig a little deeper and we'll do that after the follow-up test," he said.

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