DAX, France Lance Armstrong used Sunday's ninth stage of the Tour de France as a dress rehearsal.
The race's defending champion tested out the bicycle he plans to use in the tougher climbing stages, and still managed to stay ahead of his chief challengers in the overall standings.
Italy's Paolo Bettini won a four-way sprint to win the ninth stage. Armstrong was 47th across the line, in the main group, and was credited with the same time as Bettini.
Armstrong finished one spot ahead of Germany's Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion and the rider that the Texan's U.S. Postal team sees as the biggest threat to a repeat victory.
Armstrong remains 16th overall, 43 seconds ahead of Ullrich and 5 minutes, 12 seconds clear of 1998 winner Marco Pantani heading into the first mountain stage Monday.
Alberto Elli, Ullrich's teammate with Deutsche Telekom, retained the yellow jersey and will wear it for a fourth day, but he knows it will probably be his last.
"We will get to the mountains and the big favorites will come through," Elli said. "I have already done well ... but (Ullrich) is the team leader and on Monday I will work for him."
Bettini won the flat, 112-mile route from Agen to Dax in the southwestern corner of France in 4 hours, 29 minutes, 6 seconds.
He had to outsprint Belgium's Geert Verheyen, Frenchman Didier Rous and Jose Angel Vidal of Spain to the line.
"I had a lot of problems to get going at the start today but I have dreamed of winning here since I was a child," Bettini said.
The stage was the last chance for sprinters to grab the limelight before the Tour gets grueling.
U.S. Postal was looking ahead to the 10th stage, a 127-mile climb from Dax to Lourdes-Hautacam. Armstrong, Kevin Livingston and Tyler Hamilton all rode the bicycles they plan to use Monday.
The bikes, specially designed for the mountain stages at this year's Tour de France, are lighter and sturdier than the ones used so far and had only been used once in competition, by Armstrong at last month's Dauphine Libere race.
Team officials said Armstrong wanted to get a feel for the bike on Sunday's relatively comfortable flat stage rather than use it for the first time on the tough trek to Lourdes-Hautacam.