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Petacchi claims hat trick

Italian sprinter takes fifth stage of Tour; Pena holds lead

Posted: Thursday July 10, 2003 10:51 AM
Updated: Thursday July 10, 2003 2:31 PM
  Alessandro Petacchi Alessandro Petacchi already has three stage wins to his name in this year's race. AP

NEVERS, France (AP) -- Alessandro Petacchi, the sprint king of this Tour de France, took his third win in five stages Thursday, making light work of the fierce final dash.

Four-time champion Lance Armstrong finished 53rd, surrounded by two of his U.S. Postal Service teammates. He did not want to battle for the top spots because the tiring Alps are looming and riding up front with the sprinters carries the risk of accidents. (Full Results | Overall Standings)

Armstrong remained in second place overall, strongly positioned as he seeks a record-tying fifth successive Tour win.

"We're in good shape; our main strategy is to keep Lance out of trouble and let him do the least work possible. Keep him out of trouble and out of the wind," said Armstrong's Postal teammate, George Hincapie, who finished 52nd on Thursday.

Another Postal, Floyd Landis, added: "It worked out well today, and we didn't have to push too hard or do too much work."

Armstrong and seven of his teammates occupy the top eight spots overall. The ninth Postal, Manuel Beltran, is 11th overall.

The Postals are riding high after blowing away their rivals in the team time trials Wednesday, when squads raced against the clock. The win, the Postals' first in the technical and demanding event, gave Armstrong a cushion of time over key challengers before riders embark on the Alps' painful climbs starting Saturday.

"It's very important for the morale of the team that we won this race yesterday," said the Postals' sporting director, Johan Bruyneel. "Most important for the long-term is the motivation and the confidence of the team."

Armstrong's teammate, Colombian Victor Hugo Pena, retained the overall leader's yellow jersey -- a perfect way to celebrate his 29th birthday Thursday.

"It's the best birthday present I've had," he said. Pena is 1 second ahead of Armstrong because he was that much faster that the 31-year-old Texan in the prologue time trial on Saturday, the Tour's first race.

Before Thursday's race, at the start town of Troyes, support staff for the Postals loaded about a dozen boxes of champagne aboard the team bus. The wine was a gift from Troyes to Pena because he is the leading the race, said Tour organizers.

At the finish in Nevers, Petacchi beat Jaan Kirsipuu of Estonia and Australian Baden Cooke with an astounding burst of acceleration in the last 200 meters (yards). The Italian thrust an arm into the air in a victory salute as he crossed the line.

Petacchi, of the Italian Fassa Bortolo team, completed the 196.5-kilometer (121.8-mile) hilly course from Troyes in 4 hours, 9 minutes and 47 seconds, racing at an average speed of 47 kilometers per hour (29 miles per hour) under scorching hot skies.

Petacchi also won sprint finishes in stage 1 and stage 3 of the 20-stage Tour.

"A sprint is a question of centimeters ... You need just a little problem for it to go badly," he said. "Up until now, it's gone well. But I can't say that I'm the king of the sprinters because there are other good sprinters. But things are going positively."

A rider for the ONCE team, Angel Vicioso, fell in the dash toward the finish. He later completed the race, 195th out of the 196 racers, cradling his left arm in front of him and with blood flowing from his right knee.

Saturday's 230.5-kilometer (142.9-mile) haul from Lyon to the ski resort of Morzine-Avoriaz is the first of three days in the Alps.

After several medium-difficulty ascents, the riders face two mammoth climbs toward the end of the stage, the Tour's longest. Armstrong has already ridden the Alpine climbs -- and others in the Pyrenees that come later -- in his preparations for this Tour.

"We have to be prepared for the mountains and not get overexcited," said Hincapie. "It's wonderful to put time over our rivals, but the mountains are a whole different story."

 
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