Armstrong holds 79th yellow jersey
Six-time Tour de France champion retains lead
Revel, France ? Lance Armstrong claimed his 79th yellow jersey Wednesday at the Tour de France in a stage won by Discovery Channel teammate Paolo Savoldelli.
Armstrong tied French great Bernard Hinault. Only Eddy Merckx, with 111, has won more yellow jerseys. Merckx, Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Jacques Anquetil all won five Tours – a record Armstrong surpassed last year.
Savoldelli’s victory in the 17th stage, the longest this year, was the third for Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team at this year’s race. George Hincapie won a stage in the Pyrenees, and the squad won the team time trial.
Hincapie and Savoldelli are the first of Armstrong’s teammates to win a stage in the Tour since the Texan’s run of victories began in 1999. Armstrong finished in a small group 22 minutes and 28 seconds behind Savoldelli, and his overall lead remained unchanged.
Armstrong received the news about Savoldelli’s victory from his team director over his race radio.
“It was surreal,” Armstrong said. “We all looked at each other and said: ‘Did he just say that Paolo won the stage?’ It keeps getting better.”
Savoldelli was part of a breakaway group that built up a lead of more than 24 minutes over Armstrong’s following pack. Because the riders ahead were no threat to his overall lead, Armstrong did not give chase.
Instead, the main pack of riders took it easy for much of the 148.8-mile trek across southern France from Pau to Revel. Their average speed over the second and third hours of the stage was less than 25 miles an hour – slower than usual.
Only toward the end did Armstrong and other top riders up the pace.
Savoldelli’s time was 5 hours, 41 minutes and 19 seconds, riding at average of 26.1 miles per hour.
Armstrong’s overall lead over Ivan Basso of Italy, who also finished in his group, stayed at 2:46. Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark is 3:09 back.
His Discovery squad also is leading the Tour’s team standings.
Going into the last of four hills on the route, 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich’s T-Mobile team began to speed up.
Ullrich and teammate Alexandre Vinokourov both accelerated, taking other racers by surprise. Armstrong and seven other riders managed to match the quick pace, but a large bunch of other racers did not and were dropped.