Archive for Sunday, July 11, 2004

Armstrong calling for changes in race

July 11, 2004


— Lance Armstrong believes Tour de France organizers could do more to calm nervous riders and avoid spills that could ruin his bid for a record sixth straight victory.

For a second straight day, Armstrong offered unsolicited pointers for Tour officials, suggesting that a time trial be held in the often tense first week to thin the number of race favorites.

Sending riders out one-by-one against the clock would leave just the fastest with a realistic chance of winning the three-week Tour. Laggards would fall by the wayside, reducing the field of contenders. That, in turn, could leave fewer racers jostling each day at the front of the race -- a recipe for crashes.

"The race needs a time trial in the first week because it's too nervous without it," said Armstrong, in sixth place, less than 10 minutes behind the overall leader. "It's safer for the event to establish some order in the group and we're still another week away from figuring out who the hell's going to be in the front."

A day earlier, Armstrong said the finish of Friday's stage was too narrow. A pileup left some riders hurt.

As the 32-year-old Texan tries for a record win, young riders are stealing the headlines. Outpacing two late challengers, Italy's Filippo Pozzato bolted to victory in Saturday's 127-mile ride from Chateaubriant to Saint-Brieuc in Brittany. At 22, Pozzato is the Tour's youngest rider.

French champion Thomas Voeckler held on to the overall leader's yellow jersey.

Armstrong was 55th in the seventh stage, 10 seconds behind Pozzato. Jan Ullrich of Germany, the 1997 Tour winner and Armstrong's chief rival, placed 30th, in the same time.

Overall, Armstrong remained in sixth place, 9 minutes and 35 seconds behind Voeckler. Ullrich is still 55 seconds behind Armstrong.

Pozzato's win was a bright spot for the Italians, especially after two top Italian sprinters -- Alessandro Petacchi and Mario Cipollini -- withdrew with injuries this week. Gilberto Simoni, an outside threat to Armstrong, nearly quit Saturday after getting injured in a crash Friday.

A dozen riders have withdrawn from the Tour, mostly because of injuries. American Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Armstrong riding with Phonak, hurt his back in Friday's pileup, but kept racing.

Racers faced brief showers, windy conditions and fans lighting smoky flares and spilling onto the course in the last six miles.

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