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Armstrong gets an assist to top at Tour

American takes stage, lead thanks to pace set by teammate.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

LA MONGIE, France -- For three years in a row, Lance Armstrong has delivered for the U.S. Postal team. Thursday, he was the package.

Armstrong, riding in the slipstream of his teammates, won a 98-mile stage in the Pyrenees and took the overall lead in the Tour de France.

"I hope you can thank someone enough," Armstrong said. "Because to me, Roberto was the true stage winner."

Roberto Heras, Armstrong's teammate, set such a quick pace with 3 miles to go up La Mongie, the final climb of the day, that only Armstrong and Joseba Beloki could keep up with him.

With the finish line in sight, Heras fell back and Armstrong, who had been able to conserve energy behind Heras, used a mad dash with 160 yards left to beat Beloki by seven seconds. Heras was third in the stage, finishing 13 seconds behind Armstrong.

Armstrong led Beloki by 1 minute, 12 seconds heading into an even tougher mountain stage today.

He said Thursday that he considered the three-week race competitive and that several other riders were in contention to win. Thursday's Stage 11 victory, however, went a long way toward answering the question of whether Armstrong is in shape to win a fourth Tour in a row. It marked his 13th career stage victory, more than any active cyclist.

"It takes a good team to keep the (yellow) jersey and I think they're certainly good enough to help me do that," Armstrong said. "But I still have to ride the bike as well. I hope I have the legs to stay with them, because they were super. If today was any indication, this is the best team we've had to date."

Heras' main assignment during the route from Pau to La Mongie was to escort Armstrong on the final half of the final climb, which forced the riders to ascend 2,876 feet over an 8-mile stretch to a summit finish.

With about 3 miles to go, Armstrong's main competition, including Spain's Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and Colombia's Santiago Botero, fell back.

Galdeano, who had worn the yellow for much of the Tour, had suggested that Armstrong wasn't the same rider as he was in his past three Tour triumphs.

But Galdeano couldn't keep up, and Botero's tire went flat just as the leading trio broke free.

DOPING DEBATE: Cycling's governing body and the World Anti-Doping agency clashed over test results that showed Galdeano was using a banned substance.

WADA said the cyclist's test results should be considered positive because they showed levels of the stimulant salbutamol well above the limits.

Galdeano was spared punishment by the international cycling union because he used the drug to treat asthma. Test results showed 1,360 nanograms per milliliter in his sample.

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