Italian avoids pileup, takes Stage 6
NANCY, France -- Lance Armstrong played it safe on rain-soaked roads. Alexandre Vinokourov chose a risky approach -- and it paid off.
Vinokourov shaved 19 seconds off Armstrong's overall lead Thursday by surging toward the end to place second in the sixth stage of the Tour de France. The rider from Kazakhstan, third overall, still trails Armstrong by 62 seconds.
"The road was very dangerous, especially with the rain," Vinokourov said. "But I took the risk to get second place. I am very happy, feeling good."
Vinokourov, who finished third in 2003, is determined to do better after missing last year's race because of injury.
"I'm always ready for battle," Vinokourov said.
Lorenzo Bernucci of Italy, a 25-year-old cyclist racing in his first Tour, won Thursday's 123.7-mile stage from Troyes to Nancy in 4 hours, 12 minutes, 52 seconds.
Rain fell heavily for a second day Friday as riders set off from the eastern French town of Luneville on slippery, treacherous roads. Competitors observed a minute of silence at the start of the race to mourn victims of Thursday's terror attacks in London.
The 142-mile trek from Luneville to the German city of Karlsruhe -- the Tour's only excursion beyond France's borders this year -- has a couple of hill climbs in the first third before flattening. The finish most likely will feature a bunched sprint.
Again, Armstrong will be looking to stay safe and avoid the misfortune that befell French racer Christophe Mengin on the tight final right-hand corner at the end of Thursday's route.
Mengin was leading when he slipped and crashed into a safety barrier. The line was almost within sight, less than a half-mile away on a crowd-lined finishing straightaway.
Bernucci and Vinokourov stayed upright and dashed through to finish first and second, respectively.
"I am truly very happy with this victory. I wasn't expecting it," Bernucci said. "When I saw that others fell, and that there was a bit of distance between the me and the group, I put all my energy into the finish, and I made it."
But at least four others plowed into the prostrate Mengin and went down, too, creating a jam of bikes and riders that slowed Armstrong.
"It was a hairy finish with a lot of turns," Armstrong said. "When you're stopped behind a crash like that you have to just pick your way through and try and get to the finish."
The hapless Mengin placed 128th with a puffed bruised left eye a sorry end to a remarkable ride. He had ridden at the front for much of Thursday's stage, breaking away from the main chasing pack early in the day.
Four others joined him and the small group built a lead of more than eight minutes at one point. Mengin then took the lead alone nearing Nancy, pulling ahead on the final climb. But he was tiring and about to be caught when he fell.
"There were bikes everywhere. I rode over a back wheel," said Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen, who won Wednesday's stage and will be looking for a second victory Friday.
For his efforts, Mengin was rewarded with the prize given each day to the most courageous or aggressive rider. The prize is worth more than $2,400.
"I look more like a boxer," the battered Mengin said.
Armstrong was sufficiently behind Mengin at the time of the spill. Notified of it over the radio by team director Johan Bruyneel, the Texan eased up in time to avoid any damage.
"It was dangerous with the fall," Armstrong said. "In the rain, it's not easy. Just look at the big explosion in the group, right at the end with the sharp turn."
Armstrong placed 32nd in the chasing pack, flanked by Discovery Channel teammates George Hincapie and Yaroslav Popovych. They could have chased down Vinokourov as he broke away, but decided it was too dangerous because of the wet roads.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press