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Yellow leader

Armstrong ahead in Tour; Mayo wins on L'Alpe d'Huez

Posted: Sunday July 13, 2003 11:29 AM
Updated: Sunday July 13, 2003 2:29 PM
  Iban Mayo Iban Mayo broke away eight kilometers from the finish. AP

L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France (AP) -- Although not his dominant self, cycling superstar Lance Armstrong took the overall lead for the first time in this Tour de France on Sunday, but couldn't match Iban Mayo of Spain up the legendary L'Alpe d'Huez climb.

Mayo broke away dramatically from Armstrong, the four-time champion, and other chasing riders, powering up the 13.8-kilometer (8.5-mile) climb and its 21 hairpin bends to win Sunday's eighth stage, his first win of this three-week Tour.

Armstrong, having a tough day, didn't respond when the Spaniard attacked. The 31-year-old Texan finished third, close enough to Mayo to take the overall leader's yellow jersey, but not dominant enough to make him happy. (Full Results | Overall Standings)

"I didn't have the greatest sensations or the greatest legs today -- no bluffing," he said.

With Mayo racing on ahead, Armstrong stayed back to battle off attacks from Spain's Joseba Beloki and American Tyler Hamilton, riding with a collarbone fractured in a crash on the Tour's second day.

Beloki, the 2002 Tour runner-up, is second behind Armstrong in the overall standings, so the Texan couldn't afford to let him get far ahead. Their to-and-fro dogfight for position carried them up the mountain, to the delight of tens of thousands of cheering fans who lined the narrow, twisting route to the ski resort.

"If you'd asked me a month ago: 'Are you going to suffer like that on L'Alpe d'Huez?' I would have said, 'No way!"' Armstrong said.

"I decided to just let Mayo go and limit my losses and cover Beloki because he's close on the classification -- and that worked out OK." (Armstrong suffers in bid for fifth Tour)

Armstrong suffered a bout of stomach flu going into this Tour, where he is aiming to match Spaniard Miguel Indurain's record of five successive titles. Armstrong said "I feel like I'm getting a little better" but also acknowledged that he does not feel as strong as in years past, when he won from 1999-2002.

"Let's hope that things get better and not worse," he said.

Sunday's 219-kilometer (135-mile) stage from Sallanches included the monstrous Col du Galibier, which towers at 2,645 meters (8,728 feet). Armstrong said he could tell going up that huge climb that "I wasn't on a great day."

"It was a really hard stage from the start," he said. "The whole pack attacked."

Armstrong finished 2 minutes, 12 seconds behind Mayo, whose win confirmed him as one of the Texan's key rivals. Alexandre Vinokourov of Team Telekom was second, 1 minute and 45 seconds behind Mayo.

"A dream has become reality," said Mayo. "L'Alpe d'Huez is a mythic stage."

The Spaniard is now third overall, 1 minute, 10 seconds behind Armstrong. Second-placed Beloki trails the Texan by just 40 seconds -- and may well have narrowed that gap if Armstrong had let him get away.

"The attack by Beloki was very strong," said Armstrong. "The attack by Mayo wasn't too serious because he was a bit behind in the standings."

Mayo said he expected Armstrong to watch him like a hawk from now on.

"He will try and control me more and won't let me go," he said. "The Tour is very long with some difficult stages, so I will take it day by day."

L'Alpe d'Huez is a legendary part of the Tour's 100-year history, peaking at 1,850 meters (6105-feet) of altitude.

Armstrong, who won the stage in 2001, blamed his teammate Manuel Beltran for some of his difficulties with the climb. Beltran, a newcomer to Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service squad, powered into the mountain at blinding speed, hoping to help Armstrong shake off his rivals. But Armstrong, who followed him, said the Spaniard went too fast.

"A fast tempo is a good thing but that was supersonic and that's not a good thing," he said. "Obviously we're going to talk about that tonight. It won't happen again. But if it looked fast -- I can confirm: It was VERY fast."

There was good news for Armstrong, however: Jan Ullrich, the 1997 champion, was left behind. He finished 13th, 1 minute and 24 seconds off Armstrong's pace. But Armstrong said the German, who is eighth overall, 2 minutes and 10 seconds back, still remains a threat.

"It was important to get distance from Jan Ullrich. That's the good news of the day," he said. But "I still think he's one of the most dangerous riders in the race. Jan typically gets better as the Tour goes on and this Tour has a long way to go and I won't forget that."

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