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Riding on adrenaline

Armstrong hopes Tour problems are finally behind

Posted: Monday July 21, 2003 1:01 PM

LUZ-ARDIDEN (Reuters) -- A rush of adrenaline helped Lance Armstrong shake off the problems that have dogged him throughout this year's Tour de France as he won the 15th stage to move closer to a record-equalling fifth crown Monday.

The 159.5-km 15th stage from Bagneres de Bigorre was like a summary of the four-times champion's Tour so far -- he crashed as he had done on the first stage, he was challenged and tested like in the Alps, had mechanical problems and could not count on his teammates.

But class and courage helped him through his ordeal and now the American believes he has broken the jinx.

"This has been a Tour of too many problems, too many close calls, too many things. I wish it would stop," he said after his stage victory which gives him a one minute seven second lead over nearest rival Jan Ullrich of Germany.

What ended as one of his most emphatic Tour stage wins almost ended in disaster when he snagged his brake lever on a spectator's bag and fell with Spaniard Iban Mayo.

But luck was again on his side, as it was when he avoided arch rival Joseba Beloki when the Spaniard crashed in front of him in the Alps a week ago.

Armstrong said the events of Monday, and the testing days before, had dictated his tactics.

"I was a little bit angry. That's sometimes the best way for me to ride. I was not only angry today when I attacked, I was a little bit desperate.

Wrong move

"I knew I needed to attack and take a little more time on Jan before the time trial," he said.

Friday's 49-km timed test between Pornic and Nantes will be the final battle between the American and Ullrich and Armstrong hopes to make up for his humbling defeat last week.

"I'm a believer in momentum and curves and I just wish that the problems will stop because it's been a very hard, crisis-filled Tour," he said.

When he crashed, Ullrich waited for him to make it back on his bike, a tradition in the Tour de France and one which Armstrong himself has respected in the past.

"The fact of the matter is that I did the same when Jan crashed in the descent of the Peyresourde two years ago. I was with a few guys and I said 'look, we cannot race.'

"What goes round goes round. I'm very grateful to Jan for remembering my gesture two years ago," he said.

"I have never in my life attacked someone who had crashed. That's not the way I race," Ullrich said.

Ullrich had first attacked the American in the classic Tourmalet pass and Armstrong said he felt it was a wrong move.

"This was a very strong attack but I felt at the time it was not the time to do it," he said. "It's a long climb and for me, tactically, that was not the time to go.

"But originally, I thought that if he's going to ride like that all day long he's going to win the Tour de France. But he didn't."

Ullrich insisted Monday's defeat had not been "too negative."

"In the past, when Armstrong did his thing in the mountains, I would lose two minutes. I only lost one minute this time. So that's not too negative," the 1997 Tour winner said.

"I'm a little disappointed not to have taken second place because it would have given me some time bonus," said Ullrich, who was outsprinted by Spaniard Iban Mayo for second place.

"But I could not go any faster. I knew Lance would attack today but I could not follow him when he did.

"I just climbed at my own pace, trying to limit the damage. I'm not an explosive climber like he is. I need a steady pace," he added.

Ullrich tried to test the American in the penultimate climb of the day, the Tourmalet, but could not drop his arch-rival.

"Well I tried. It did not work but it allowed me to test his real worth," he said.

But the Olympic road champion made it clear he would fight until the bitter end in Paris on Sunday.

"It's still a wide open race. Wednesday after the rest day, we'll have a very difficult stage as well, even if it finishes in the valley. And as for the time trial, I'm very confident," he said.

The riders have a rest day on Tuesday before the race continues on Wednesday with the 16th stage from Pau to Bayonne.


 
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