Friday, July 9, 2004

Armstrong drops from lead in Tour

By Jamey Keaten
The Associated Press

CHARTRES, France - Lance Armstrong lost his overall lead in the Tour de France to Thomas Voeckler on Thursday, an honor the five-time champion willingly conceded - for now.

Withstanding rain-doused roads and high wind, Australia's Stuart O'Grady of Cofidis won the Tour's fifth stage with a sprint finish ahead of Voeckler and three other riders who broke early from the main pack.

O'Grady thrust his arms in the air after winning his second career Tour stage. Denmark's Jakob Piil was second, ahead of France's Sandy Casar and Voeckler.

At one point, the five-rider group built a lead as large as 17 minutes ahead of the pack on the 124.59-mile stage.

The breakaway riders clocked in at 5 hours, 5 minutes and 58 seconds; Armstrong and the pack finished 12 minutes, 33 seconds later.

Armstrong, who was 24th in the stage, fell to sixth overall - 9:35 off Voeckler's pace.

The U.S. Postal Service team tried to include George Hincapie in the break, but Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile team kept reeling them back in.

"We tried, but T-Mobile kept chasing down George and the guys we put in the break," Armstrong said.

Voeckler chuckled when asked what his lead over Armstrong meant.

"Oh, I don't think he's worried about me," the 25-year-old Frenchman said.

Voeckler, riding for Brioches La Boulangere, epitomized how fickle the Tour can be from one day to the next. He entered the stage three minutes behind Armstrong in 59th place.

Armstrong, seeking a record sixth straight Tour victory, gained the overall leader's yellow jersey a day earlier, thanks in part to a first-place performance in the team time trial by his U.S. Postal Service squad. But controlling the lead so early brings pressures, and Armstrong's coach said the 32-year-old Texan was willing to give up the yellow jersey temporarily to focus on bigger threats.

"We can't kill the team for a breakaway by five people who aren't a threat in the overall classification," Postal sporting director Johan Bruyneel said. "I'm comfortable with the situation."

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