Leipheimer poised; Lance 25th


MAYRHOFEN IM ZILLERTAL, Austria -- Levi Leipheimer's chance of winning the Giro d'Italia keeps getting better. Lance Armstrong keeps losing time.

Leipheimer finished in the main pack in Thursday's sixth stage, with the race crossing into Austria. The Montana rider remained fourth overall, 43 seconds behind leader Danilo Di Luca of Italy.

"I'm happy with how it's gone so far," Leipheimer said. "We saw some people who fell away [Wednesday] and some people who were strong, so the picture is more clear now and I'm still in that picture."

For the third consecutive stage, Armstrong was dropped from the lead group. This time, the seven-time Tour de France winner was undone by a steep downhill run.

Armstrong lost 1:15 and dropped from 22nd to 25th overall, 4:13 behind Di Luca. The Texan returned this season after 3½ years of retirement and broke his collarbone in March.

"I can't expect to be too strong right now," he said. "It's been a complicated preparation. I have to be realistic and just ride my rhythm."

Italy's Michele Scarponi of the Diquigiovanni team won the stage after a long breakaway. He covered the 154-mile leg in 5 hours, 49 minutes, 55 seconds. Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway followed, 32 seconds behind. Allan Davis of Australia was third, also 32 seconds back.

All the favorites -- including Di Luca, Ivan Basso and Leipheimer -- finished with the main pack, 36 seconds after Scarponi.

Di Luca maintained a five-second lead over Sweden's Thomas Lovkvist. Lovkvist's Team Columbia-High Road teammate Michael Rogers is third, 36 seconds behind, followed by Leipheimer.

"It's no secret that Leipheimer is a threat. Especially with the time trial that is so long," Di Luca said, looking toward next week's 12th stage, a 38-mile highly technical race against the clock along the coastal area known as Cinque Terre. "It's not a typical time trial. Levi and Rogers will be very dangerous that day."

If the standings stay as is, Leipheimer will be the favorite to take the leader's pink jersey in the time trial. And if he does so, Armstrong will have to put aside his stated ambition of a stage victory in the second half of the race. Both cyclists ride for the Astana team.

"There's no point in me going for a stage win if he's in the lead," Armstrong said. "We have to support that."

The 35-year-old Leipheimer has a long list of accomplishments. He finished second to teammate Alberto Contador in last year's Spanish Vuelta, was third in the 2001 Spanish Vuelta and 2007 Tour de France and took the bronze medal in the time trial at the Beijing Olympics.

"Things haven't changed for me," Leipheimer said. "I think maybe just more people are paying attention now because of Lance."

Scarponi returned this season after an 18-month ban for involvement in the Spanish doping scandal Operation Puerto. He won the weeklong Tirreno-Adriatico race in March.

Thursday's stage began in Bressanone, Italy, and featured two climbs before a downhill section and a fast finish through a tight circuit under bright sunshine.

Scarponi and four others attacked at the 34-mile mark. He left behind his last breakaway companion -- Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus -- with just more than three miles remaining.

"Yesterday I lost all my chances for [overall victory], so I wanted to try to attack today to make amends," Scarponi said. "Kiryienka was a big help. I couldn't have made it without him."