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Patient Armstrong finishes in pack

7/10/2004

SAINT-BRIEUC, France -- Lance Armstrong believes Tour de
France organizers could do more to calm nervous riders and avoid
spills that could ruin his bid for a record sixth straight victory.

For a second straight day, Armstrong offered unsolicited
pointers for Tour officials, suggesting that a time trial be held
in the often tense first week to thin the number of race favorites.

Sending riders out one-by-one against the clock would leave just
the fastest with a realistic chance of winning the three-week Tour.
Laggards would fall by the wayside, reducing the field of
contenders. That, in turn, could leave fewer racers jostling each
day at the front of the race -- a recipe for crashes.

"The race needs a time trial in the first week because it's too
nervous without it," said Armstrong, in sixth place, less than 10
minutes behind the overall leader. "It's safer for the event to
establish some order in the group and we're still another week away
from figuring out who the hell's going to be in the front."

A day earlier, Armstrong said the finish of Friday's stage was
too narrow. A pile-up left some riders badly hurt.

As the 32-year-old Texan tries for a record win, young riders
are stealing the headlines.

Outpacing two late challengers, Italy's Filippo Pozzato bolted
to victory in Saturday's 127-mile ride from Chateaubriant to
Saint-Brieuc in Brittany. At 22, Pozzato is the Tour's youngest
rider.

French champion Thomas Voeckler held on to the overall leader's
yellow jersey.

Armstrong was 55th in the seventh stage, 10 seconds behind
Pozzato. Jan Ullrich of Germany, the 1997 Tour winner and
Armstrong's chief rival, placed 30th, in the same time.

Overall, Armstrong remained in sixth place, 9 minutes and 35
seconds behind Voeckler. Ullrich is still 55 seconds behind
Armstrong.

Pozzato's win was a bright spot for the Italians, especially
after Two top Italian sprinters -- Alessandro Petacchi and Mario
Cipollini -- withdrew with injuries this week. Gilberto Simoni, an
outside threat to Armstrong, nearly quit Saturday after getting
injured in a large crash Friday.

A dozen riders have withdrawn from the Tour, mostly with
injuries. American Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Armstrong
riding with Phonak, hurt his back in Friday's pileup, but kept
racing.

"I wasn't feeling so hot," Hamilton said.

Phonak sporting director Jacques Michaud said Hamilton hit his
back against the pedals of another rider's bike.

Racers faced brief showers, windy conditions and fans lighting
smoky flares and spilling onto the course in the last 6 miles.

But Armstrong said there was little flair to the stage -- just
what the racers needed after a week of rain-soaked roads and
crashes galore.

"I thought you'd have more spice in the race, but I think guys
are tired and stressed from all the crashes," said Armstrong, who
was bruised but not badly hurt in a tumble Friday.

Belgian Christophe Brandt became the first rider to fail a
doping test. His team said he was sent home after testing positive
for a heroin substitute.

Brandt suggested that a lab error might be to blame and said he
was awaiting results of a follow-up test.