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Armstrong cements grip on Tour de France

The leader takes a time trial and, barring a crash today, clinched his fourth consecutive Tour title.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 28, 2002

The leader takes a time trial and, barring a crash today, clinched his fourth consecutive Tour title.

MACON, France -- For a man who is handily winning the Tour de France, seemingly assured of a fourth successive title, Lance Armstrong has been talking, looking and acting like a man with something to prove.

So Saturday he proved it.

Cutting corners precisely, pedaling fluidly as he passed through throngs of spectators, looking the picture of speed, the leader of the U.S. Postal Service team and everything else he surveys triumphed in the second and last individual time trial in the 89th Tour.

The three-week race ends today in Paris with a stage that is usually a formality for the man in the leader's yellow jersey. Besides, his lead is so overwhelming that a challenge is nearly impossible.

Armstrong was a rocket over 31 miles of sunbaked countryside from the village of Regnie-Durrette in the Beaujolais wine region into the city of Macon.

He finished 53 seconds ahead of Raimondas Rumsas, a Lithuanian with Lampre, and 1 minute, 6 seconds ahead of Laszlo Bodrogi, a Hungarian with Mapei. David Millar, a Scot with Cofidis, was fourth, 1:14 behind, with Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, a Spaniard with ONCE, fifth, 1:42 behind.

Armstrong was timed in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 50 seconds and averaged 29 mph.

"I was very motivated," he said. "It was important to do a good job and do my best. After the first time trial, people were saying that I didn't have it anymore in those races, that I'd lost my skills. This wasn't revenge but I had something to prove."

He was second among 182 riders in the first long race against the clock on July15, after winning the short time trial prologue on July6. But he had not won any of four races against the clock in previous races this season. For the master of the time trial, that was a shock.

His fourth stage win in this Tour, including two in the Pyrenees, left him 7:17 ahead of Joseba Beloki, a Spaniard with ONCE. Rumsas is third, 8:17 behind.

In some shuffling among the leaders, Galdeano moved to fifth from sixth, changing places with teammate Jose Azevedo. Levi Leipheimer, an American with Rabobank, changed places with Roberto Heras, a Spaniard with the Postal Service, moving from ninth to eighth.

Armstrong started relatively slowly, crossing the first checkpoint, 6.5 miles into the stage, 17 seconds behind Rumsas.

"I tried to stay calm and come home strong," the Texan said. "If I'd been second, it wouldn't have been an empty Tour de France."

Nevertheless, he has been talking for days about his disappointment after the first time trial in Lorient.

Asked if he had experienced a bad day in the Tour, he replied, "The time trial. Definitely. It was not a good day. I don't know why, but I didn't feel good."

He felt better Saturday, he said.

At the second time check, 20.5 miles in, Armstrong led Rumsas by 7 seconds. At the third time check, 27.7 miles in, he was 34 seconds ahead. He then widened the lead.

"I tried not to take risks," he said. "That's the reason we came here six weeks ago to train on the course. But it's a little different going at 70 kph (the speed, about 431/2 mph, he reached descending the big climb of the day over a rolling course) rather than 40 in training."

Thousands lined the route. At every time check, the street was so crowded, Armstrong and others barely had enough room to squeeze through.

Today, once the cyclists arrive in Paris, they will take 10 laps of roughly 3.5 miles each around the Champs Elysees, the French capital's famed boulevard. More than 100,000 are expected to line the street to cheer Armstrong; unless he crashes, he will come within one of Spaniard Miguel Indurain's record of five consecutive titles.

Only two others, France's Jacques Anquetil and Belgium's Eddy Merckx, have won four straight Tours.

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