posted on Jul, 16 2004 @ 12:42 PM
LA MONGIE, France (AP) - Lance Armstrong took a big step toward a record sixth straight Tour de France crown on Friday by surging past key rivals on
the first climb in the Pyrenees.
The Texan moved from sixth to second in the overall standings following a ride in which he was runner-up to stage winner Ivan Basso of Italy. Jan
Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, Iban Mayo and Roberto Heras were among the pre-Tour contenders whose hopes of dethroning the five-time champion faded as
Armstrong powered up the ascent ahead of them.
Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner, lost 2 minutes, 30 seconds to Armstrong -- a major setback. Hamilton gave up 3:27 while Heras was 2:57 behind.
"I could tell he [Armstrong] was going to strike a big blow,"
said French rider Richard Virenque, who was 3:27 behind. "He stunned the
Armstrong's merciless performance on the ascent to the La Mongie ski station showed he will be hard to beat.
He is 5:24 behind French champion Thomas Voeckler, who struggled in the mountain stage but limited the damage by holding the yellow jersey.
Voeckler had been leading Armstrong by more than nine minutes before the grueling stage. He placed 41st on Friday, 3:59 behind Armstrong and Basso.
Basso, considered a possible future Tour winner, won a stage for the first time in his career. The 26-year-old cyclist captured the white jersey as
the best young rider in 2002, when he placed 11th overall. He was seventh last year and hopes to win the showcase race in two to three years.