Tour-Tour director impressed by Armstrong

Updated: July 9, 2004, 10:14 AM ET

By Francois Thomazeau

ANGERS, France, July 9 - Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc, impressed by Lance Armstrong's performance in the first week of the race, is convinced the American can win for a record sixth time.

"I believe he has the means to win his sixth Tour de France. He seems to me in the same condition or even better than in previous years," Leblanc told Reuters. "And he's backed by a very good team."

Armstrong finished second in the prologue in Liege behind young Swiss Fabian Cancellara and he took the race leader's yellow jersey after his U.S. Postal outfit won a team time trial on Wednesday.

In a week, he also saw off Spaniard Iban Mayo, who lost crashed in the third stage in the north of France, as well as Italian Gilberto Simoni, also penalised by a fall in the last curve of the team time trial.

"Armstrong has an exceptional reading of the race. With his experience, his professionalism, he never makes any mistake," Leblanc added.

"His tactical sense is unbelievable. To let underdogs break away yesterday (Thursday) and seize the overall lead in order to take pressure off his own team mates was a perfect strategy.

"His performance thus far was flawless,"

French champion Thomas Voeckler took the Tour leader's yellow jersey in Chartres on Thursday and leads the Texan by 9:35 overall.

Mayo crashed in a controversial third stage with 3.5 km of cobbled sectors and some riders, including Armstrong's American rival Tyler Hamilton criticised organisers saying cobbles had no place on the Tour de France.

"They should have expressed their views when the Tour itinerary was revealed in October.

"And it must be noted that no crash took place on the cobbles. Mayo's crash took place before the first cobbled sector. There were also crashes yesterday and no cobbles.

"The problem is not the cobbles. It is the fact that riders are very nervous in the first week," Leblanc said.

Simoni also lost vital time in his team time trial crash because of a twist in the regulations.

Had his team mates waited for him, he would have lost one minute and 30 seconds on Armstrong, but because he crossed the line six seconds behind, his actual time was taken into account and the twice Giro champion found himself 2:42 adrift.

"I personally intervened to ask race officers to apply the spirit of the rule and not the letter in the Simoni's case. But they said the rule was the rule," Leblanc said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index