Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Landis regains yellow jersey in punishing Alps

AP , L'ALPE D'HUEZ, FRANCE

A naked supporter runs in front of the riders during the Tour de France cycling race from Gap to L'Alpe d'Huez, France, on Tuesday. The Tour de France logo has been added for discretionary reasons.

PHOTO: AFP

Floyd Landis is wearing the race leader's yellow jersey again at the Tour de France, regaining it on Tuesday in the punishing Alps, where a former teammate-turned-rival made quite a name for himself.

The teammate, Lance Armstrong, who happened to be in L'Alpe d'Huez as a cheerleader, ended up witnessing the American's winning ride.

"I'd love to see the jersey stay in the States," Armstrong said.

Though he admitted "a little friction here and there" with Landis in the past, none of that was apparent on this day.

"If I was a betting man, I'd certainly put my money there right now. Floyd has been great all year long," he said.

And all he needs to do is stay that way through Sunday, with the bright maillot jaune on his back.

"I would like to keep it. I can't think of a reason why I would give it away now, but if that scenario arises then it's still a possibility, I guess -- but it would be unlikely," Landis said.

While not by design, Landis regained the lead by hugging the wheels of one top rival and outpacing the others he worries about most. He cemented his status as the man to beat by placing fourth in the 15th stage, the Tour's entree into the Alps, with a grueling uphill finish at the legendary mountain.

That performance pushed Landis a bit closer to victory in the first Tour after Armstrong won cycling's premier race a record seven times.

Landis, who grew up in eastern Pennsylvania's Mennonite country, plans to ride conservatively in two more tough Alpine stages, with a penultimate individual time trial stage on tap before Sunday's finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Now, potential contenders like Germany's Andreas Kloeden, Australia's Cadel Evans, Spain's Carlos Sastre and Russia's Denis Menchov will have to outpace Landis to win. And they are all within three minutes of him.

Landis said his main concern was Kloeden, a T-Mobile rider who finished second to Armstrong in the 2004 Tour. The German had lost time in the Pyrenees last week, but was the only cyclist to keep up with him in the stage.

"I'd never written him off completely and I can't do so with the other guys, either. I have to be careful that I, myself, don't have a bad day. Things change quickly," Landis said.

The byproduct of hewing to the German's wheel was that Landis finished 1:39 ahead of Spain's Oscar Pereiro, who had seized the yellow jersey from him on Saturday, and reclaimed the race lead.

"It was just as well with me if Pereiro kept the lead, but I had to stick with Kloeden -- that was my objective," Landis said.

Riding in the leader's shirt puts extra pressure on racers and their teams to protect it by, among other things, keeping to the front of the pack and trying to avoid crashes and other hazards.

With Armstrong retired, the race was blown open even wider on the eve of the July 1 start when nine riders, including prerace favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, were sent home after their names turned up in a doping investigation in Spain.

Promising young rider Frank Schleck of Luxembourg won Tuesday's stage, leading the way through a sea of fans who lined the 21 hairpin turns on L'Alpe d'Huez, many waving flags like matadors in front of the ascending riders.

Schleck took 4 hours, 52 minutes, 22 seconds to complete the 187km trek from Gap, in the Alpine foothills, through the Col d'Izoard and the Col du Lautaret climbs before the finish.

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