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LANCE ARMSTRONG Wins Tour De Suisse

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ American Lance Armstrong won the Tour de Suisse cycling road race title Thursday, showing he's in top form for the Tour de France.

Armstrong, a two-time Tour de France winner, completed the 877-mile circuit in a total of 35 hours, 6 seconds, a solid 1:02 ahead of recent Giro winner Gilberto Simoni. Italy's Wladimir Belli was third, 1:34 back.

``It wasn't an easy win,'' said Armstrong, who knows about tough victories, overcoming cancer to eventually win the Tour de France in 1999 and 2000. ``The course is hard, it's a high level field, the time trial was particularly tough.''

Armstrong wasn't that anxious to look ahead.

``Everybody wants to talk about the Tour de France in 10 days time but this Tour de Suisse is still a big race and an honor to win,'' he said. ``I'll remember it for a long time.''

Armstrong is expected to overtake Italy's Davide Rebellin at the top of the world rankings when they are released Monday by the International Cycling Union. Armstrong had not previously been ranked 1.

``It was definitely on my mind,'' he said. ``I've been close, third or second, but never No. 1.''

Oskar Camenzind, who last season became the first Swiss in six years to win the country's cycling tour, took the final stage Thursday, covering 109 miles in 3 hours, 56 minutes, 18 seconds. Armstrong finished 45th in the final stage.

Emmanuel Magnien of France was second, followed by Christian Poos of Luxembourg. Dimitri Konychev of Russia was third, just ahead of former world No. 1 Laurent Jalabert.

A powerful climber and a first-rate time trialist, Armstrong had all but locked up the victory on Tuesday, when he won a rare mountain stage against the clock, building a solid 1:05 lead over his nearest challengers.

The victory took by the 29-year-old Texan was somewhat surprising. Few were expecting the him to push too hard just before the Tour de France, the world's premier cycling event. That competition runs July 7-29.

``At the beginning of the season it wasn't our objective to come here and win but it just worked out that way,'' Armstrong said. ``I thought I had a chance to win here but the big objective is the Tour de France.''

He was competing in Switzerland mainly to practice on the Alpine nation's grueling climbs, in particular the mountain time trial similar to the 19.9-mile, 11th stage of the Tour de France on July 18.

``When you come here, there's always the Tour de France behind,'' Armstrong said. ``Of course the Swiss race was a priority, we didn't come here to slack off.''

It is on such verticals that the American secured his Tour de France titles, dominating the climb to Sestrieres in 1999 and the Ventoux last year.
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