Armstrong Wins Tour Time Trial

Friday, July 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MULHOUSE, France (AP) — Lance Armstrong won the individual time trial Friday for his first stage victory in this Tour de France, an emphatic step toward a second straight title in cycling's premier race.

He had the second-fastest speed in the history of the race's individual time trials, averaging 33.5 mph from Freiburg, Germany, to this French border town. Only Greg LeMond, America's first Tour champion, had ever done better. He went 33.8 mph but on a course half the length.

Armstrong completed the 19th stage in Mulhouse in eastern France after a 36-mile ride. He was 25 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor, Jan Ullrich of Germany. Christophe Moreau of France was third.

With an overall lead of 6 minutes, 2 seconds, on Ullrich, Armstrong looks virtually unbeatable with just two days to go before the finish in Paris on Sunday.

The time trial is a specialist competition within the Tour, requiring each cyclist to ride a medium-length course on his own in the fastest possible time.

It's a favorite of Armstrong, who won all three time trials in last year's race when he came back from cancer to win the title. He had considered Friday his last chance to win a stage this time.

``It's very important for the yellow jersey to show himself in the time trial,'' said Armstrong, referring to the race's overall leader. ``The time trial is the basic truth.''

``For me the Tour would not have been complete if I had not won a stage. So I've done exactly what I set out to do.'' he added.

As overall leader, Armstrong went last. That's an important edge in measuring his own performance against his closest challenger. Ullrich rolled down the starting ramp just ahead of the Texan and finished second.

``It was a great fight,'' Armstrong said.

The key sign that Armstrong was headed for an emotional triumph came a third of the way through the stage, when he passed the first measuring point a crucial five seconds ahead of Ullrich.

Armstrong said before the race he would go for broke if he was beating Ullrich at this point. And Armstrong consistently widened the gap as he pursued Ullrich toward the French border, where fans stood five-deep along the sidewalks and hedgerows.

Things got only worse for the German once he left home soil. At the 20-mile time check he posted the fastest pace of the day. But minutes later he heard Armstrong had decisively passed the same point 25 seconds ahead, the same gap as held at the finish line.

Armstrong began his race shortly after his U.S. Postal teammate Tyler Hamilton completed his own blazing race of 1:08:02, averaging 31 mph to hold the top spot briefly. Hamilton finished fourth.

Their record-flirting performances overshadowed a similarly powerful showing from former French national champion Laurent Jalabert, who ended the day sixth in front of an enthusiastically cheering Mulhouse crowd.

David Millar of Britain, who won the first individual time trial back on the first day of the three-week competition July 1, set the best early pace at 1:08.57, a result that survived the bottom half of the 127-strong field. He finished seventh.

The Tour de France concludes this weekend with a mostly flat 158-mile race Saturday to the west. Then, following a late-night transfer by Orient Express train to their Paris hotels, the riders complete a largely ceremonial 86-mile dash within the French capital.