Guerini wins Stage 19; Armstrong retains lead
Italian Giuseppe Guerini won the 19th stage of the Tour de France over 153.5 kilometers from Issoire to Le Puy-en-Velay on Friday.
LE PUY-EN-VELAY, France -- This is not the time for Lance Armstrong to take chances, push harder, let it all hang out.
Unless, that is, he wants to check off the one accomplishment he's lacked on his final Tour de France -- a stage win to call his own.
Armstrong has taken and held a commanding overall lead without winning a single stage, and Saturday's final time trial gives him an excellent chance to change that.
The rolling 34.5-mile route at Saint-Etienne in central France should suit a fast roller and climber like Armstrong. But it will also severely test legs worn out by the 2,108 miles covered in the past three weeks by the 155 riders left in the race.
"It's a tough course because it's never flat," Armstrong said Friday after protecting his lead of 2 minutes, 46 seconds over Italy's Ivan Basso through Stage 19. "It starts climbing almost immediately and there's a lot of technical and tricky downhill sections. There's a little bit of flat road near the end but it's almost never flat."
Time trials are raced with aerodynamic bikes, helmets and suits to reduce wind drag and save seconds. Armstrong has won 10 individual clock races in his Tour career. The last was the final time trial in 2004, on a rolling course similar to Saturday's.
In contrast to his six previous winning Tours, Armstrong's only victory this year was as a member of the Discovery Channel team, which won the team time trial.
He says Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion who will be fighting for a podium finish, will be hard to beat Saturday. But Armstrong's children -- Luke, Grace and Isabelle -- have joined him on the Tour, and it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't like for them to see Daddy win.
"Big day," Armstrong said. "I'm going to ride as hard as I can. I hope to win but there's no guarantees in cycling."
His priority, as it has been since he emerged from the Pyrenees with his comfortable lead intact, is to make sure that he finishes.
"I haven't won a race this year. I forget those things," he said. "It's important but it's not everything. If I get second and somebody takes a little bit of time out of me, then that's OK too."
The ultimate goal is Sunday, when Armstrong expects to ride up the crowd-lined Champs-Elysees in Paris for the last time to collect his seventh win. There, at age 33, he will retire.
That final ride is largely ceremonial, with sprinters battling at the end for the honor of winning the stage on France's most famous boulevard. Armstrong prefers to sip champagne in the saddle as Paris approaches and then safely negotiate the cobblestones of the city.
Saturday's time-trial course loops north of Saint-Etienne before doubling back into the city.
"When I did it in training before the Tour it was incredibly hot," Armstrong said. "The weather seems to have cooled down but it's going to be a tough one and there will be good time gaps."
As race leader, he will start last. In addition to his advantage over Basso, Armstrong leads Denmark's Mickael Rasmussen by 3:46. Ullrich is fourth, 5:58 back. A powerful roller, Ullrich is looking to catch Rasmussen, who is better in mountain climbs, and knock him off the podium.
Italian Giuseppe Guerini won Friday's 19th stage, a hilly 95.4-mile route from Issoire to Le Puy-en-Velay in the Massif Central mountains of central France.
Guerini, who rides for Ullrich's German T-Mobile squad, finished in 3 hours, 33 minutes and 4 seconds. Armstrong and the main pack finished 4:31 behind -- happy to have let Guerini and other low-placed riders break away in front.
Armstrong calculated Friday that with time trial and the last ride into Paris, he has just "five more hours in my career as a cyclist."
But he is ready to move on.
"I'm not terribly sad about that," he said.
Guerini's stage win was the second of his Tour career. In his first, up the legendary Alpine climb to the Alpe d'Huez ski station in 1999, he recovered and won after smashing into a fan who was trying to get a photograph of him from the middle of the road. Guerini fell to the ground. The spectator picked him up and pushed him on his way.
"This was less dangerous than L'Alpe d'Huez," the Italian said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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