Sun, Apr 24, 2005 - Page 22 News List

Riders battle stormy weather on hills

TOUR DE GEORGIA Dane Brian Vandborg won the fourth stage, a 214km course over peaks as high as 978m and through a harrowing thunderstorm

AP , DAHLONEGA, GEORGIA

Team Health Net heads up a hill with team Phonak Hearing Systems close behind during Stage 4 of the Tour de Georgia from in Dahlonega, Georgia on Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

His stomach aching and soaked from a grueling, stormy day in the mountains, Lance Armstrong settled for a supporting role at the Tour de Georgia on Friday.

Brian Vandborg of Denmark won the fourth stage, holding off the Armstrong-led Discovery Channel team.

One of Armstrong's teammates, Viatcheslav Ekimov, was edged at the line by Vandborg. Another Discovery Channel rider, Jose Luis Rubiera, set the pace much of the day.

Floyd Landis kept the yellow jersey as the overall race leader for the second day in a row, though he'll face a tough challenge keeping it today on the climb to 1,436m Brasstown Bald -- the highest point in Georgia.

Americans hold the top five spots in the overall standings. Landis is followed by David Zabriskie (19 seconds behind), Olympic medalist Bobby Julich (28 seconds), Levi Leipheimer (50 seconds) and Tom Danielson (1 minute).

Armstrong cruised across the line in seventh place. While he moved up one spot to eighth in the overall standings, he remained 1 minute, 42 seconds behind Landis.

Asked how he was feeling, the six-time Tour de France winner said, "Not great. My stomach is bothering me pretty bad."

Armstrong usually leaves his rivals behind in the mountains, but his conditioning is off and Saturday's forecast called for gusting winds atop Brasstown Bald.

Was Armstrong looking forward to another day of climbing the steep, winding roads?

"With the current conditions, not really," he said.

The race ends on Sunday in Atlanta's northern suburbs, where Armstrong crossed the line as the winner a year ago. That leaves him only two days to make up the gap on Landis.

But this race is merely a tuneup for Armstrong and the rest of his team, which is focused on sending him into retirement with a seventh straight Tour de France victory this summer.

"The main objective remains the Tour de France," Ekimov said. "The Tour de Georgia is very important for our sponsor, but the team did not specially prepare for this race."

The riders endured a fierce thunderstorm that swept across the mountains.

"Really freaky weather," Armstrong said. "It went completely black, like someone turned out the lights. Then the rain came."

A few riders dropped out in the treacherous conditions -- and Mark Walters went out the hard way. The Canadian crashed in Woody Gap, cracking his helmet and suffering serious abrasions on his left side. He was treated at a hospital and released.

The leaders made it through OK, and the rain had cleared by the time the cyclists rolled onto the streets of tiny Dahlonega, the site of America's first gold rush in 1828.

Rubiera had an amazing ride, taking the lead in Woody Gap and setting the pace for nearly two hours. But the Spaniard was caught by the peleton with about 16km to go and faded to 23rd.

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