Armstrong recovers from early fall, finishes in pack behind former

Wednesday, July 7th 2004, 10:53 am
By: News On 6

Eds: UPDATES with McEwen involved in crash, five U.S. Postal riders
in overall top ten

ANGERS, France (AP) -- Lance Armstrong recovered from an early
fall and avoided a late crash, finishing in a pack behind stage
winner and former teammate Tom Boonen of Belgium in the Tour de
France on Friday.
Armstrong, trying for a record sixth straight Tour title, was
thrown from his bike but not hurt in a crash involving a number of
cyclists about 20 minutes into the sixth stage, a 122-mile run from
Bonneval to Angers.
Armstrong and rival Jan Ullrich of T-Mobile managed to stay
clear of a major wreck near the finish that involved all but about
30 riders.
According to the rules, competitors held up in a crash in the
final kilometer of a stage are given the same time as the winner.
Boonen and a pack of riders, including Armstrong and Ullrich,
finished the stage in 4 hours, 33 minutes, 41 seconds. Ullrich was
26th, and Armstrong 34th.
Thomas Voeckler of France retained the overall leader's yellow
jersey and was 9 minutes, 35 seconds ahead of the sixth-place
Armstrong. Ullrich is another 55 seconds back.
Armstrong quickly got back in the race after the early fall and,
with help from his U.S. Postal Service teammates, caught up with
the pack
"It was a typical early race crash," he said. "There's
nothing you can do. You hit the brakes, but bikes don't stop that
fast, so I just went over."
Armstrong said he was not seriously hurt.
"It wasn't bad, a little bit on the arm, a little bit on the
hip," he said.
The five-time champion also criticized organizers for the narrow
layout of the final stretch into the finish.
"Coming in, they've got the barriers really tight, and you've
got 200 guys racing through there at 40 mph. ... You're going to
have crashes," Armstrong said.
Boonen won a sprint finish, speeding past Cofidis' Stuart
O'Grady of Australia and T-Mobile rider Erik Zabel of Germany,
hoisting his arms into air as he crossed the line.
"It was really a great win," said Boonen, who is riding in his
first Tour. "I love this kind of sprint -- hard -- for really strong
Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen of Lotto Domo got caught in
the crash and rode slowly to the finish line with a huge hole in
his racing shorts after sliding along the tarmac.
The spill was the first of this Tour for Armstrong and came a
day after the 32-year-old Texan said he was worried about crashing.
Adverse conditions marred much of the first week, although weather
for Friday's stage was balmy by comparison and mostly rain-free.
"In this race, I'm always scared, always nervous," he said.
"The last two or three days for me, personally, have been really,
really nerve-racking.
"It's a stressful race."
Viatceslav Ekimov of Russia, Armstrong's trusted teammate who
usually steers him through crashes and other hazards, arrived last
and battered at Postal's bus, a thin stream of blood running down
his right leg.
Five Postal riders were among the top 10 in the overall
standings after the stage.
American Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Armstrong who now
rides for Phonak, blew a tire. He caught up with the main group
near the 36-mile mark and finished 102st in the stage. He is 13th
The fast-paced sixth stage took place without two of cycling's
fastest sprinters -- Italians Mario Cipollini and Alessandro
Petacchi, who pulled out of the race before the start due to