Petacchi Wins 6th Stage of Tour De France

Friday, July 11th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LYON, France (AP) _ Alessandro Petacchi won the long and strenuous Nevers-Lyon stage of the Tour de France on Friday, blistering past opponents to claim his fourth win in six stages in cycling's premier event.

Four-time winner Lance Armstrong, preserving his strength ahead of the punishing mountain stages that begin Saturday, finished 39th. He remains 2nd overall, just behind his U.S. Postal teammate Victor Hugo Pena, who retains the overall leader's yellow jersey.

The 31-year-old Texan's quest for his record-tying fifth straight Tour victory begins in earnest Saturday. Pena said the team's goal is to help Armstrong tie the record held by Spanish cycling great Miguel Indurain.

``Tomorrow the Tour is really going to start, we're going into the Alps,'' Pena said. ``I'm going to do my job as a teammate to make sure Lance wins his fifth Tour de France.''

Saturday's 140.12-mile haul from Lyon to the ski resort of Morzine-Avoriaz is the first of three days of alpine ascents.

Petacchi, an Italian who rides for Fassa Bortolo, finished the 230-kilometer (142.6-mile) trek to Lyon in 5 hours, 8 minutes and 35 seconds in blazing summer heat.

In the final yards to the finish line, Petacchi blew past second-place finisher, Australian Baden Cooke of; and Fabrizio Guidi, an Italian who rides for Team Bianchi, who was third. The stage, the second-longest of the Tour, involved an undulating hill climb of medium difficulty that offers a taste of the agony that awaits riders in the forbidding Alps.

On Saturday, Petacchi will wear the green jersey _ awarded to the fastest sprinter.

Petacchi said he was tired throughout the stage, but his teammates helped shield him from the wind so he could stay with the pack for a sprint finish.

``My companions have again done an extraordinary job,'' he told France-2 television. ``They brought me into a front position in the descent from the hills for the sprint _ and I thank them.''

With only a few miles left in the stage, German rider Erik Zabel of Telekom and Robbie McEwen of Australia, who rides for Lotto Domo _ two of the best sprinters on the Tour _ got entangled and briefly fell off their bikes. Neither was hurt and the riders were able to rejoin the race.

The riders raced into Lyon under a blazing sun and temperatures of about 90 degrees.