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Thursday, July 22, 2004 - Page updated at 10:21 A.M.

Tour de France
Challengers nearly out of time

By Diane Pucin
Los Angeles Times

DOUG PENSINGER / GETTY IMAGES
Lance Armstrong snakes through animated spectators on his way to a time-trial victory in Stage 16.
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Tour snapshot: Downhills can be downfall for some

L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France — The Tour de France belongs to Lance Armstrong. Again.

Barring an extraordinary collapse, the 32-year-old Texan will win cycling's most celebrated and grueling road race for a record sixth consecutive time Sunday in Paris.

Yesterday, amid a caldron of emotion that included jeering and spitting fans among the estimated 900,000 spectators, Armstrong all but won the race in a 9.6-mile time-trial victory on legendary Alpe d'Huez.

Armstrong won in 39 minutes, 41 seconds, increasing his lead over Ivan Basso, the 26-year-old Italian in second place, from 1:25 to 3:48 overall.

"I wanted it bad because of the history around this mountain and the importance to the race," Armstrong said. "All in all, it was a very important day. Lots of adrenaline, lots of emotion."

The emotion was evident in the signs painted on the road. Many were encouraging, but Armstrong's wheels also rolled over messages that weren't as nice. Lance haters had crude things to say about his girlfriend, singer Sheryl Crow, and there were the ever-present "EPO Lance" signs, a reference to the blood-doping drug that skeptics believe might enhance his superiority.

"The crowds were animated," Armstrong said. "Although I enjoyed my day, I still think it's a bad idea to have a time trial on this mountain. It was a little scary, and a lot of German fans were just disgusting."

Jose Luis Rubiera, one of Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teammates, called it a new experience — for all the wrong reasons.

"I never saw this part of sport before," Rubiera said. "Lance is the best there's ever been and probably people are tired of that, and maybe angry."

Notes

• Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc said he "saw two idiots spit at Lance Armstrong." Australia's Robbie McEwen said he was frightened by the crowd, and Germany's Jens Voigt said he was taunted and booed by German fans.

Jan Ullrich was second in the time trial, 61 seconds behind, and is fourth overall. His T-Mobile teammate, Andreas Kloden, remained third overall after placing third in the stage.

• Many Armstrong fans are wearing plastic, yellow "Livestrong" wristbands. The wristbands, benefiting cancer patients through the Lance Armstrong Foundation, can be purchased for $1 at www.lancearmstrong.com

The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Overall leaders
Lance Armstrong added 2 minutes, 28 seconds to his overall lead while winning yesterday's time trial. The race ends Sunday in Paris.
1. Lance Armstrong, U.S. Postal, 67 hours, 53 minutes, 24 seconds.
2. Ivan Basso, Italy, Team CSC, 3 minutes, 48 seconds behind.
3. Andreas Kloden, Germany, T-Mobile, 5:03 behind.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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