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Voeckler takes lead from willing Armstrong

7/8/2004

CHARTRES, France -- Lance Armstrong lost his overall lead in
the Tour de France to Thomas Voeckler on Thursday, an honor the
five-time champion willingly conceded -- for now.

Withstanding rain-doused roads and high wind, Australia's Stuart
O'Grady of Cofidis won the Tour's fifth stage with a sprint finish
ahead of Voeckler and three other riders who broke early from the
main pack and held on.

O'Grady thrust his arms in the air after winning a Tour de
France stage for the second time in his career. Denmark's Jakob
Piil was second and France's Sandy Casar was third. Voeckler, the
French champion, was fourth.

At one point, the five-rider group built a lead as large as 17
minutes ahead of the pack on the 124.6-mile stage from Amiens to
Chartres.

The breakaway riders clocked 5 hours, 5 minutes and 58 seconds;
Armstrong and the pack finished 12 minutes, 33 seconds later.

Armstrong, who was 24th in the stage, fell to sixth overall -- 9
minutes and 35 seconds off Voeckler's pace.

The U.S. Postal Service team tried to include George Hincapie in
the break, but Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile team kept reeling them back
in.

"We tried, but T-Mobile kept chasing down George and the guys
we put in the break," Armstrong said.

Asked if any of the five riders could threaten his try for the
overall crown, Armstrong said, "I don't know."

Later, Armstrong disclosed he would skip the Athens Games to
spend more time with his children. The Summer Olympics begin about
three weeks after the end of the Tour de France on July 25.

When asked what his Tour lead over Armstrong meant, Voeckler
chuckled.

"Oh, I don't think he's worried about me," the 25-year-old
Frenchman said.

Voeckler, riding for Brioches La Boulangere, epitomized how
fickle the Tour can be from one day to the next. He entered the
stage three minutes behind Armstrong in 59th place.

Mishaps -- tire punctures, derailed chains and spills on
rain-soaked roads -- marred much of the course through bucolic wheat
fields and rolling hills northwest of Paris.

Armstrong, seeking a record sixth straight Tour victory,
captured the overall leader's yellow jersey a day earlier, thanks
in part to a first-place performance in the team time trial by his
U.S. Postal Service squad.

But controlling the race lead so early brings pressures along
with honors -- and Armstrong's coach said the 32-year-old Texan was
willing to give up the yellow jersey temporarily and focus on
bigger threats.

"We can't kill the team for a breakaway by five people who
aren't a threat in the overall classification," Postal sporting
director Johan Bruyneel said. "I'm comfortable with the
situation."

Four of Armstrong's U.S. Postal teammates crashed about halfway
through the course. Jose Luis Rubiera was treated by a race doctor,
who swabbed down his leg from a car as the rider hung on to the
vehicle's window.

Australian sprint specialist Bradley McGee, who complained of
hip problems from the start of the race, dropped out Thursday.