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Originally published July 11, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 21, 2005 at 11:41 AM

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Armstrong gives up Tour de France lead

Lance Armstrong surrendered his yellow jersey yesterday, handing over the honor of being No. 1 at the Tour de France to German Jens Voigt...

Los Angeles Times

MULHOUSE, France — Lance Armstrong surrendered his yellow jersey yesterday, handing over the honor of being No. 1 at the Tour de France to German Jens Voigt, but the six-time defending champion did so not unhappily.

With the honor comes the pressure of defending the sunny shirt. Armstrong and his weary Discovery Channel teammates seemed content to relinquish the role of leader to Voigt and his CSC teammates after yesterday's ninth stage, a 106.3-mile roller-coaster trip up and down six big hills through the Vosges mountains of eastern France.

Dane Mickael Rasmussen was the first man over each of the six climbs and finished in a time of 4 hours, 8 minutes, 20 seconds to win his first Tour stage and move up to fourth place overall. Voigt finished 3:04 behind Rasmussen, while Armstrong was 28th and in the middle of the peloton that was 2:18 behind Voigt.

To the delight of the thousands of fans who stuck it out through high winds and occasional rain, Frenchman Christophe Moreau is second overall, 1:50 behind Voigt. Armstrong is third, though he lost no time to the men considered his top competitors.

The T-Mobile trio of Alexandre Vinokourov (fifth, 1:02 behind Armstrong); Jan Ullrich (eighth, 1:36 behind) and Andreas Kloden (11th, 1:50 behind) remain well positioned, as does Voigt's teammate Ivan Basso, who is seventh, 1:26 behind Armstrong.

The important thing to take away from yesterday's racing is that his teammates rode strongly and stayed with him, Armstrong said. On Saturday, Armstrong found himself alone on the final climb and in the midst of the strongest of CSC and T-Mobile racers.

"We don't need the yellow jersey," Armstrong said. "We don't need to keep it through the Alps. We need to have it at the end. I felt like today might be the day when the jersey was given away, and that's how it turned out."

Stage 9 winner: Mickael Rasmussen, Rabobank.
Overall leader: Jens Voigt, CSC. Lance Armstrong is third.

TV tomorrow: Coverage begins at 5:30 a.m. on OLN. Replays at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

And it is worth noting that last year Armstrong took over the yellow jersey after the team time trial, then gave it up for the next 10 days to Frenchman Thomas Voeckler. This year he won yellow again after the team time trial but defended the yellow for five days. Enough was enough.

"As I keep saying, it's not important to have yellow now," Armstrong said. "It's important July 24."

Voigt is not considered a serious threat to win the Tour though he wore the yellow jersey once before in 2001. "I don't think anybody expects me to be in first coming out of the mountains," he said. "Today was my very last chance to take the jersey."

But Voigt's hope is that he hands off the yellow to Basso, his young teammate who stuck with Armstrong last year in the mountains before finishing third overall. "It would be ideal if that happens," Voigt said. "I'm not complaining. You can't have it all. At CSC we are all riding for Basso. We are going to protect him."

After the first of two rest days in the 21-stage journey today, the Tour resumes tomorrow with big climbs to the ski resort of Courchevel. It is the kind of stage where the T-Mobile riders are likely to attack Armstrong and Discovery Channel again.

Ullrich, who won the 1997 Tour and finished second five times since, had more bad luck. The German, who crashed into a team car on a practice ride the day before this Tour began, skidded off the bike on a descent yesterday. He expected to be fine tomorrow.

The one dark moment for CSC was that American David Zabriskie, who wore the yellow jersey a week ago before crashing in the team trial, didn't get to make the climb as he gave into his slashed elbow and swollen knee and dropped out.

"He's my hero," Voigt said. "He tried so hard."

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