Patient Armstrong finishes in pack
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A dozen riders have withdrawn from the Tour, mostly with injuries.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.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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