Teammate's victory 'surreal' for leader Armstrong

Lance Armstrong's teammate Paolo Savoldelli won the longest stage of the Tour de France, finishing far ahead of the six-time champion and other top riders who took it easy over the 148.8-mile trek Wednesday across southern France.

Updated: July 20, 2005, 2:44 PM ET
Associated Press

REVEL, France -- Lance Armstrong claimed his 79th yellow jersey Wednesday at the Tour de France in a stage won by Discovery Channel teammate Paolo Savoldelli.

Armstrong tied French great Bernard Hinault. Only Eddy Merckx, with 111, has won more yellow jerseys. Merckx, Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Jacques Anquetil all won five Tours -- a record Armstrong surpassed last year.

Savoldelli's victory in the 17th stage, the longest this year, was the third for Armstrong's Discovery Channel team at this year's race. George Hincapie won a stage in the Pyrenees and the squad won the team time trial.

Hincapie and Savoldelli are the first of Armstrong's teammates to win a stage in the Tour since the Texan's run of victories began in 1999. Armstrong finished in a small group 22 minutes and 28 seconds behind Savoldelli and his overall lead remained unchanged.

Armstrong got the news about Savoldelli's win from his team director over his race radio.

"It was surreal," Armstrong said. "We all looked at each other and said: 'Did he just say that Paolo won the stage?' It keeps getting better."

Savoldelli also won his second Giro d'Italia title earlier this year, overcoming injuries and health problems that almost ended his career.

"It's been a very lucky year for me," he said.

Savoldelli was part of a breakaway group that built up a lead of more than 24 minutes over Armstrong's following pack. Because the riders ahead were no threat to his overall lead, Armstrong did not give chase.

Instead, the main pack of riders took it easy for much of the 148.8-mile trek across southern France from Pau to Revel. Their average speed over the second and third hours of the stage was less than 25 miles an hour -- slower than usual.

Only toward the end did Armstrong and other top riders up the pace.

Savoldelli's time was 5 hours, 41 minutes and 19 seconds, riding at average of 26.1 miles per hour.

Armstrong's overall lead over Ivan Basso of Italy, who also finished in his group, stayed at 2:46. Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark is 3:09 back.

His Discovery squad is also leading the Tour's team standings.

Armstrong and the others in the main pack, including his closest rivals, soaked up the scenery of rolling hills, picturesque villages and freshly harvested fields, chatting and occasionally joking with television crews.

Armstrong even hammed it up for TV viewers -- a clear indication that the pressure on him eased when he emerged from the last day in the high mountains on Tuesday with his comfortable lead intact.

"George, George," he shouted to Hincapie, urging him to speak to the cameras.

"I'm working, I can't speak," Hincapie said as he pedaled.

Toward the end of the stage, there was dramatic jostling for places below Armstrong in the overall standings.

Going into the last of four hills on the route, 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile team began to pedal faster.

Ullrich and teammate Alexandre Vinokourov both accelerated, taking other racers by surprise. Armstrong and seven other riders managed to match the quick pace, but a large bunch of other racers did not and were dropped.

They included Australian Cadel Evans and American Floyd Landis, who both started the stage just ahead of Vinokourov in seventh and eighth place, respectively.

But they finished 20 seconds behind Vinokourov. That was good enough to vault the Kazakh rider ahead of both Evans and Landis and into seventh place.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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