TRIESTE, Italy -- Lance Armstrong gained time on his rivals again at the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, yet the seven-time Tour de France winner still maintains he has no designs on winning the three-week race.
"I still don't think I'm a contender for the overall, but I feel better than I thought I would feel," Armstrong said.
Alessandro Petacchi edged Mark Cavendish to win the second stage in a mass sprint and Cavendish retained the overall leader's pink jersey.
Armstrong finished in the main pack with the same time as Petacchi, while overall race favorite Ivan Basso and Armstrong's Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer each finished 13 seconds behind, dropping back when the group was split by a crash with just over 3 miles remaining remaining.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Alessandro TrovatiLance Armstrong rides with the main pack during Sunday's second stage in Italy.
"That's the risk of the early stages in a big tour in a finale. I was lucky to be there with [Jose Luis Rubiera] and he kept me out of trouble," Armstrong said.
Astana finished third in the team time trial that opened the Giro on Saturday, with Basso's and the other Italian favorites' teams trailing.
Armstrong returned this season after 3½ years of retirement and broke his collarbone in March. Before the Giro began, Armstrong said he would support Leipheimer in his bid to win the race.
But Leipheimer blew his front tire on a high-speed downhill section before the crash. A better indication of Armstrong and Leipheimer's aspirations will come during the first serious mountain climbs in the Dolomite range, beginning Tuesday.
"It's going to be a hard three weeks, but also a beautiful three weeks," Armstrong said. "We get to see all parts of this country that I personally haven't had the chance to experience, and I'm excited."
Petacchi, an Italian with the LPR Brakes team, covered the mostly flat 97-mile route from Jesolo to the northeastern city of Trieste in 3 hours, 43 minutes, 7 seconds.
It was the 20th Giro stage win of Petacchi's career.
"I've been thinking about how to beat Cavendish for three days and I did it exactly how I thought I would," said Petacchi, who held off a late comeback from the Isle of Man resident.
Cavendish and third-place finisher Ben Swift were given the same time, as was the chasing pack.
Cavendish, the British standout of the Columbia squad that won the team time trial to open the Giro on Saturday, leads the overall standings by 14 seconds ahead of teammate Mark Renshaw.
Armstrong crossed 42nd with the same time as Petacchi and moved up from 15th to 10th overall, 27 seconds behind Cavendish.
Leipheimer dropped to 18th overall, 40 seconds behind Cavendish, and Basso fell to 45th, 1:07 back.
The stage began at a beach resort near Venice and wrapped right along the seaside for the final 30 miles to this city nestled near the Slovenian and Croatian borders. The stage ended in bright sunshine with riders completing three circuits through the city's center.
Attempting to avoid crashes, Armstrong rode near the front of the group for the last stretch, always recognizable with his black Livestrong helmet.
"It's a little-bit nerve-racking the final there," Armstrong said. "The circuits with the traffic islands, the potholes and crashes everywhere. The temptation is to hit the brakes when sometimes you have to take some risks to stay in front."
Armstrong is riding the Giro for the first time and he was impressed by the crowds.
"I know what the crowds are like at the Tour, but you don't know what they're going to be like in Italy," he said. "We had the road lined with people. Granted it's a beautiful Sunday so people will naturally come out of the houses, but fans were energetic."
Leonardo Scarselli, an Italian with the ISD team, broke away from the pack after six miles and accumulated an eight-minute advantage at one point but was caught well before the finish.
Matthias Russ, a German rider with the Milram team, broke his left collarbone in a crash and was brought to a local hospital.
Monday's third stage is a 123 mile leg from Grado to Valdobbiadene, which provides one more chance for sprinters before the mountains. The race ends May 31 in Rome.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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