American Armstrong wins Tour de France prologue
Posted: Sunday July 25, 1999 05:23 PM
PUY-DU-FOU, France (CNN/SI) -- American Lance Armstrong, riding for the U.S. Postal Service won the prologue of the Tour de France Saturday.
The two-time Olympic cyclist, who recently overcame testicular cancer, finished the 6.8-kilometer (4 and 1/4 mile) time trial in 8 minutes, 02.5 seconds, seven seconds faster than the second-place finisher, Alex Zulle of Banesto.
Coming in third, 11 seconds behind the winner, was Abraham Olano of the Spanish team ONCE.
Armstrong's success came as the race struggles to emerge from under the shadow of the doping scandals that almost destroyed the venerable cycling race last year.
"This feeling is incredible," Armstrong said. "With my problems, my history, it is incredible."
"The Tour de France is the greatest race in the world," he said.
Armstrong, 28, of Austin, Texas, won the 1993 World Championship and competed for the U.S. Olympic team in 1992 and 1996.
On Oct. 2, 1996, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. He underwent surgery to remove his right testicle and lesions from his brain.
After 16 months of rehabilitation and recovery, Armstrong returned to racing in February.
The American won stages of the Tour in 1993 and 1995, but has struggled through its mountainous middle stages.
The painful doping crisis that enveloped last year's race was still on the minds of many fans Saturday. Many interviewed said this year's race could make or break the sport.
"Doping is just like nuclear weapons," said Queffelec Christian, a French fan. "Bring it all down to zero."
"This Tour is the opportunity to get rid of all the problems," he said.
But British fan Martin Burrill, a vacationer from Manchester, said he understood the temptations.
"It is their choice ... but maybe it isn't," he said. "You're a young lad, maybe it's your first contract. The manager says, `take this.' What are you going to do?"
French cycling star Richard Virenque remains under investigation on drug charges, but was in the lineup Saturday.
On Wednesday, the Tour reluctantly bowed to pressure from cycling's governing body and readmitted the controversial rider, whom it had earlier barred because "his presence would be incompatible with the image of the Tour."
The International Cycling Union, citing a technical error, ordered organizers to rescind the ban. Race director Jean-Marie Leblanc called the order a "takeover by force." Many top riders are missing this year. The two previous winners, Jan Ullrich of Germany and Bjarne Riis of Denmark, both are injured.
With the field wide open, Virenque, a top climber in good form, and Armstrong look to be favorites. Also in contention is last year's surprising third-place finisher, American Bobby Julich of Cofidis.
The 20-stage race will be about 200 kilometers (124 miles) shorter than last year, and less grueling: it will include an extra rest day.
The 3,680-kilometer (2,286-mile) race will end with its traditional ride up and down the Champs-Elysees on July 25.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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