Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Lance Armstrong delivers in stage 13

TOUR DE FRANCE A day after stunning Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton on the first of the two Pyrenean stages, Armstrong took another step to a record sixth yellow jersey after sprinting to the finish line

AFP , PLATEAU DE BEILLE, FRANCE

US Postal Service team leader Lance Armstrong, of Austin, Texas, rides down the Port de Lers pass during the 13th stage of the Tour de France between Lannemezan and Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees,, Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

Lance Armstrong further stamped his authority on the Tour de France after winning the tough 13th stage over 205.5km from Lannemezan to here Saturday ahead of Italy's Ivan Basso.

Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, 24, had to fight again to retain the race leader's yellow jersey on a day that saw Hamilton abandon the Tour and Iban Mayo suffer humiliation in front of thousands of Basque supporters.

Voeckler, who rides for the La Boulangere team, saw his 5:24 overnight lead reduced to 22 seconds, and is likely to lose the jersey once the race hits the Alps in a few days.

Basso, who won Friday's stage ahead of Armstrong, is third overall at 1:39 and Ullrich's T-Mobile teammate Andreas Kloden is fourth at 3:08.

Voeckler gave the millions of race fans around the world another spectacular display of determination when he came back from possibly losing the yellow jersey to managing to keep it on the final climb.

"Not a lot of people were counting on me today, even me," said Voeckler, who was born in Alsace but was brought up on the Caribbean island of Martinique.

"It was a terrible stage, and I had to really fight all the way. I was so happy when I crossed the finish line and saw there was less than five minutes on the clock."

Armstrong's first stage win this year was his 17th overall, and it turned into a display of pure power as he relegated Ullrich further down the standings to just over seven minutes.

The American failed to take yellow, but that seemed to matter little after his victory, which gave him some welcome bonus seconds to add to his time.

"Twenty seconds is 20 seconds, so it's good to have it," Armstrong said when asked if it was important to win the stage.

"It's also nice to win a stage on the Tour. People win one stage on the Tour and it makes the entire year. I can't forget that and I won't forget that.

"It would have been nice to be back in yellow. That was sort of our intention before the day started.

"But then you've got a rider like Voeckler, who gets dropped, and then comes back and gets dropped then fights all the way to the end, and he keeps the yellow jersey. That's what's beautiful about this event.

"The Tour's not finished yet, there's still the Alps to come and a lot of dangerous stages."

With seven climbs in total, including two first category and the unclassified climb to the summit finish here, the second of two days in the Pyrenees was always going to do some damage.

Hamilton of the Phonak team abandoned after only 79km having complained of back pains since his crash in the first week of mainly flat racing in northern France and Belgium.

Spaniard Iban Mayo, of Euskaltel, came close to retiring before managing to get back on his bike having decided, temporarily, to give up on the difficult climb of the Col d'Agnes, a first category 9.5km ascent at an average gradient of 8.4 percent and the fifth of hte day's seven climbs.

One of Mayo's teammates, Haimar Zubeldia, had abandoned earlier on in the stage, which also saw the retirement of Russian climber Denis Menchov, who retired due to a knee injury.

Mayo arrived at the finish over 37 minutes adrift, and fell into the arms of his girlfriend, who like him was in tears.

"I couldn't feel my legs, my legs and my whole body were solid," said Mayo as he tried to explain his near retirement.

"But today is not the worst day in my life. I'm 26 years old and I know I've got a future on the Tour, but I'm bitterly disappointed for all the people who came from all over the Pyrenees to see me."

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