ARMSTRONG wins mountain stage, takes race lead

Saturday, July 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PLA D'ADET, France (AP) _ Lance Armstrong pulled off another stunning mountain-stage victory on Saturday, claiming the race leader's yellow jersey and moving closer to a third straight Tour de France title.

The Texan lifted both arms in the air as he crossed the finish line, dedicating the win to former teammate Fabio Casartelli. The stage took riders past a memorial marking the spot where the Italian crashed fatally in the 1995 Tour.

``I absolutely dedicate this victory to Casartelli,'' Armstrong said. ``When we passed (the memorial) today, I decided that I was going to win.''

After the stage through the Pyrenees mountains, Armstrong changed into the leader's yellow jersey for the first time this Tour.

``We were all fairly confident that we would get the jersey,'' said the U.S. Postal Service rider, who started the stage ranked third. ``The tactics worked our way.''

Armstrong's lead over his main rival, Jan Ullrich of Germany, grew to five minutes and 13 seconds thanks to Saturday's win, his third in this year's Tour.

The advantage meant that with only seven of 20 Tour stages remaining, he is well placed to win the race when it finishes in Paris on July 29. Only Sunday's stage between Tarbes and Luz-Ardiden _ the last mountain leg _ is likely to have a major impact on the race standings.

Armstrong completed the grueling 194-kilometer (120.47-mile) stretch in five hours, 44 minutes and 22 seconds. He was one minute faster than second-placed Ullrich, and more than 13 minutes ahead of Frenchman Francois Simon, who started the stage as race-leader.

Armstrong, his U.S. Postal teammate Roberto Heras and Ullrich broke from the front pack as the race approached the last of six tough climbs.

With some seven kilometers (four miles) to go, Ullrich passed between the two U.S. Postal riders and overtook them.

Heras, from Spain, dropped back but Armstrong gave chase. A few minutes later, he moved in front, then suddenly increased his pace, leaving the Team Telekom rider stranded. He then overtook France's Laurent Jalabert, who had led for most of the stage, and was way ahead of Ullrich when he finished.

It was the third time Armstrong has beaten Ullrich in the closing stretch of a mountain stage in this year's Tour. He also was faster than the German in an uphill time-trial in the Alps.

``I tried everything that was possible,'' said Ullrich, the 1997 champion. ``I went to my limit, nothing more was possible. I have to wait for a black day for Armstrong, otherwise he is unbeatable.''

Ullrich crashed spectacularly but without apparent injury in the fast ride down from the Col de Peyresourde mountain pass, the fourth climb of the day.

Leading Armstrong by several meters (yards), he missed a bend to the left and rode straight ahead, passing behind a safety barrier and down a steep embankment. His rear wheel upended and he disappeared from sight.

He emerged seconds later, carrying his bike over his shoulder, and immediately resumed racing.

``I was going down at about 80 kph (50 mph) and my brakes weren't working that well,'' said Ullrich.

He caught up with Armstrong a few minutes later and the two spoke briefly.

``I asked him if he was OK,'' said the American, who slowed down to allow Ullrich to catch up. ``It looked like a bad crash. I decided that the correct thing to do was to wait.''

Ullrich was ranked fourth overall after Saturday's stage, with Simon and Kazakstan's Andrei Kivilev between him and Armstrong.