McEwen wins sprint to finish, takes Stage 7
KARLSRUHE, Germany -- Lance Armstrong kept his overall lead in the Tour de France on Friday, cruising safely to the finish of a rainy seventh stage won in a sprint by Australia's Robbie McEwen.
Armstrong finished 53rd and in the main pack, recording the same time as McEwen as the Tour veered into Germany. The Texan avoided a crash in the closing straightaway that took down two riders.
Armstrong is trying for a seventh straight victory in cycling's showcase race before retirement. He leads Discovery Channel teammate George Hincapie by 55 seconds overall and Kazak rival Alexandre Vinokourov by 62 seconds.
"We've made it through the first week. There have not been any major crises -- in fact I think it's been a pretty good week," Armstrong said. "Of course these stages are always scary -- you have to stay out of trouble -- but I'm glad to be one week down, two to go."
Riders observed a minute's silence at the start of the race to mourn victims of Thursday's terror attacks in London.
Rain fell heavily for a second straight day, making roads slippery and treacherous during the 142-mile run from the eastern French town of Luneville to Karlsruhe in Germany.
The stage victory was McEwen's second of this Tour and seventh of his career. Sweden's Magnus Backstedt was the runner-up, followed by Austria's Bernhard Eisel.
"Every now and then I think, 'You're 33 now and you're going to start slowing down.' It hasn't happened yet," McEwen said.
He is vying with Belgium's Tom Boonen for the green jersey, awarded at the end of the Tour to the best overall sprinter. Boonen placed seventh Friday after crashing earlier in the stage, tearing his shorts and grazing his left buttock.
Large crowds turned out to welcome the riders as they crossed the border into Germany.
"We expected a lot of people but that was just out of this world, the amount of people standing out there in the road," McEwen said. "We only had half the road to use because there was just people everywhere. It's nice but in a way it makes it a little bit dangerous."
The eighth stage Saturday starts in the German town of Pforzheim before crossing back into France to finish in Gerardmer.
The 143.8-mile route scales five hills, including the hardest climb of the race so far -- the Col de la Schlucht. The stage should favor all-around riders who can both climb and ride hard on flats, rather than explosive sprinters like McEwen.
Armstrong hopes the climbs will help string out the field to avoid another bunched sprint at the finish where crashes are a constant risk.
"I feel certain that my condition is good enough to follow some attacks," he said. "In fact, some attacks would be nice so that we don't have a field sprint again."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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