Sun, Jun 12, 2005 - Page 22 News List

Merckx wins stage in French Alps

AP , GRENOBLE, FRANCE

Axel Merckx of Davitmon-Lotto team celebrates after winning the 5th stage of the 57th Dauphine Libere cycling race from vaison-la-Romaine to Grenoble, France on Friday.

PHOTO: EPA

Axel Merckx won the fifth stage of the Dauphine Libere on Friday after a solo breakaway in the French Alps, and six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong stayed comfortably in the chasing pack to finish 23rd.

Merckx, the son of five-time Tour de France champion Eddy Merckx, finished 2 minutes, 15 seconds ahead of second-place Inigo Landaluze in the 219km trek from Vaison-la-Romaine to Grenoble.

"It's the best victory of my career," Merckx said. "My objective was to win a stage on the Pro Tour. It's important for me. I had my father on the telephone. He said he was happy for me and knew I worked hard."

Benjamin Noval took third, 5:45 behind, while Armstrong finished 9:36 after the winner. The American will be trying to win his seventh straight Tour de France title in July.

Landaluze's performance was enough to claim the overall leader's jersey from Levi Leipheimer, who suffered a spill in the final descent and dropped to third overall.

"I was going too hard in the descent. I got too excited and should have known better," Leipheimer said. "The roads here at the Dauphine are always a bit sloppy. I was going too far into a corner, and I fell about six feet."

Leipheimer -- riding for the Gerolsteiner team -- had a bloodied elbow and several bruises. Armstrong and his Discovery Channel teammates asked the pack to slow down so his former teammate could get back on his bike.

Following a tough time trial Wednesday and Thursday's punishing climb up Mont Ventoux, Armstrong was not looking to challenge Friday. The 33-year-old Texan dropped to fourth in the overall standings, 3:12 behind Landaluze. Merckx is second overall, 2:32 adrift.

Armstrong, who got on the team bus without speaking to reporters, won the Dauphine Libere in 2002 and 2003, but a third title is not his priority. His main objective is to spend more time in the saddle, improve his rhythm and stay out of danger before the start of the Tour de France.

Merckx pushed out in front after about 110km, and Francis Mourey, Thor Hushovd, Mario Aerts and Landaluze formed a chasing group.

Merckx led the chasers by more than three minutes when he reached the summit at Col du Banchet, with the main pack nearly 14 minutes behind.

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