Armstrong Moves Into 3rd in France

Thursday, July 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHATEAU-THIERRY, France (AP) _ Lance Armstrong moved up to third place in the Tour de France in what was a true team effort.

His U.S. Postal Service team finished second to an energized Spanish Once squad in Wednesday's team time trial.

The 1-2 finish by Once and U.S. Postal gave their riders the top 14 spots in the overall standings. Spaniard Igor Gonzalez Galdeano took the leader's yellow jersey, with Armstrong two spots behind.

The Spanish team won the fourth stage in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 49 seconds in the 42-mile stretch from Epernay to Chateau-Thierry, northeast of Paris. U.S. Postal was 16 seconds behind.

``As close as it was, there's a little bit of regret,'' said Armstrong, the three-time champion. ``We could have been a little more aggressive in the first 20 kilometers.''

Still, it was among the best showings by a new-and-improved U.S. Postal team, he said.

``I'm happy with the team. We had a good ride,'' Armstrong said.

Last week, before the start of the tour, Armstrong said he believed this year's U.S Postal team is the best yet. The team gained two new riders, American Floyd Landis and Czech Pavel Padrnos, and saw the return of Benoit Joachim of Luxembourg, who was not selected last year after competing in 2000.

Gonzalez Galdeano, riding for Once, became the first Spaniard to don the leader's yellow jersey since Miguel Indurian won his fifth tour in 1995. Once's Joseba Beloki was second, four seconds behind. Armstrong rose from fifth place, putting him seven seconds behind the leader.

``I'm going to take my yellow jersey and hang it on the window of my hotel tonight to make people happy,'' the front-running Spaniard said.

Thousands of fans lined the route on a cloudy day in which there was one brief spell of rain near the finish. That contrasted with the downpour during the time trial a year earlier, when two of Armstrong's teammates fell on the slick roadway.

``Compared to last year, it's a big relief _ coming in second without any problems,'' Armstrong said.

The Danish team CSC-Tiscali finished third, stalled by a blown tire. CSC-Tiscali finished 30 seconds behind U.S. Postal

Every second counts in the early stages for opponents of Armstrong, who is favored to win a fourth straight title when the 21-day event ends in Paris on July 28. The Texan isn't expected to take a commanding lead until the race moves to the mountains next week.

The Telekom team of German sprinting specialist Erik Zabel, who held the yellow jersey coming into the day, finished nearly three minutes behind Once. Zabel sank to 39th place overall.

Before Wednesday's stage, cycling officials conducted blood tests on 54 riders from six teams, including Armstrong's. None of the tests turned up positive. Doping has rocked cycling in recent years and nearly ended the 1998 tour.

Thursday's fifth stage takes the 189 cyclists along a 121-mile stretch from Soissons, the capital city of the first French king, Clovis, to the Normandy city of Rouen.