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ARMSTRONG third in Tour de France prologue

DUNKIRK, France (AP) _ Defending Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong placed third in Saturday's prologue, conceding his leader's yellow jersey to Frenchman Christophe Moreau on the opening day of the race.

Armstrong completed the 8.2-kilometer (5.09-mile) individual time-trial through the streets of this northeastern port city in nine minutes and 24 seconds.

He was four seconds off Moreau's pace, and a second slower than Spaniard Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano.

The 1997 champion Jan Ullrich, who is considered Armstrong's main rival in the 2001 Tour, was tied in fourth place with France's Florent Brard.

The Texan was the last of the 189 riders to take the start. He wore the yellow jersey he sported as leader at the end of last year's race. He also won the Tour in 1999, and is aiming for his third consecutive victory.

Armstrong counts time-trials among his many specialties. He built an unassailable lead in last month's Tour of Switzerland by winning an uphill time-trial in the Swiss Alps. The 11th stage of the Tour de France will be a similar mountain time-trial in the French Alps, a stage Armstrong has described as ``critical.''

Tens of thousands of cycling fans lined the circuit in Dunkirk behind metal barriers to catch a glimpse of the riders taking part in the world's most prestigious bike race.

They applauded as Armstrong rode around the city.

On the eve of the race Armstrong and his U.S. Postal Service teammates were jeered at by some members of a crowd at the official presentation ceremony for the 21 teams. Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc attributed the cold welcome to U.S. Postal's decision not to include team member and local star Cedric Vasseur in the Tour squad.

Sunday's first stage is a 194.5-kilometer (120.78-mile) run over the flat countryside of France's northern Opal Coast, between the towns of St Omer and Boulogne sur Mer.
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