Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Lance Armstrong refuses to let up

AP , LONS-LE-SAUNIER, FRANCE

Spaniard Juan Miguel Mercado of team Quick Step-Davitamon crosses the finish line to win the 166.5km 18th stage of the Tour de France in Lons-le-Saunier, Friday.

PHOTO: EPA

Lance Armstrong will race hard in the next-to-last stage of the Tour de France, even though he doesn't need to.

Armstrong has all but clinched his record sixth straight Tour title. He could play it safe in today's time trial and still go on to win, but that's not in his plans.

"I have to go hard," he said. "It's the obligation of the yellow jersey to go hard on a final time trial. I'll do my best."

If Armstrong takes the time trial, it would be his fifth stage victory -- his most in any Tour. Last year was the only time he didn't win a clock race, losing to Jan Ullrich and David Millar. Armstrong won six of eight time trials between 1999 and 2002, and he earned his seventh on Wednesday with a hectic sprint up L'Alpe D'Huez.

He is also relishing one final duel with archrival Ullrich -- the 1997 Tour winner -- who has finished second to Armstrong three times since 1999.

"Jan will be strong," Armstrong said. "He'd like to finish the Tour with a stage win."

Armstrong dominated the headlines again Friday even though he didn't win the 18th stage. Armstrong was the focus of attention twice, by settling an old score with Filippo Simeoni and confirming that this would not be the last time he races the Tour de France. That was enough to take the spotlight away from Juan Miguel Mercado's first stage win.

Simeoni, involved in a legal battle with Armstrong, tried to break away from the pack but he was stopped in his tracks by the defending champion. Even though Simeoni isn't a threat to Armstrong's title hopes, the Texan chased him down anyway.

The animosity began because of Simeoni's testimony against sports doctor Michele Ferrari, with whom Armstrong has ties. Ferrari faces allegations of providing performance-enhancing drugs to riders. In 2002, Simeoni told an Italian court that Ferrari advised him to take drugs.

Ferrari has testified that he never prescribed or administered banned substances.

In a newspaper interview earlier during this Tour, Simeoni said Armstrong called him a liar. Because of that he is suing Armstrong for libel.

"All he wants to do is destroy cycling and destroy the sport that pays him, and that's wrong," Armstrong said Friday.

Simeoni was trying to catch a group of six riders who dashed ahead early in the trek through eastern France.

Armstrong followed him, and they caught the escape group. The lead riders couldn't win the stage with Armstrong bearing down so Simeoni obeyed cycling etiquette and ended his attack.

"Armstrong demonstrated to the entire world what type of person he is," Simeoni said. "It is not reasonable that a great champion doesn't give a chance to a small rider like me. I suffered an injustice from him while everyone was watching."

Mercado won the 103.2-mile trek, which started in Annemasse, in 4 hours, 4 minutes and 3 seconds.

"Everybody understood that this is their job and they absolutely love it," Armstrong said. "They're committed to it and they don't want somebody within their sport destroying it. When I came back I had a lot of riders patting me on the back and saying `Thank you.'"

Armstrong's overall lead over Ivan Basso of Italy remained unchanged at 4:09 -- more than enough to see him through to the finish in Paris.

Ullrich, who beat Armstrong in last year's opening time trial, is in fourth place, 8:08 behind. His focus now will be a spot on the podium and a place in history as only the third rider to finish second in the Tour six times.

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