What's Cool In Road Cycling

Armstrong Takes Over Dauphine

– Reported by dan Osipow For Tailwind Sports –

On the heels of yet another impressive time trial, the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team’s Lance Armstrong took over the race lead today at the Dauphine Libere stage race in Pierrelatte, France. Armstrong placed second in today’s 41 kilometer time trial from Montйlimar, losing to Kelme’s Santiago Bottero by 42 seconds, but put significant time on his rivals and holds a lead of 1:12 over Euskaltel’s Haimar Zubeldia heading into tomorrow’s fourth stage.

“Lance did a great time trial,” said Johan Bruyneel, the USPS team’s director sportif. “He was very comfortable throughout the race and stayed within himself from start to finish. Bottero is a very strong time trialist and when he has one of those days, nobody can beat him. Yet you see the big difference Lance put into everyone else and realize Bottero is really powerful.”

Armstrong entered the stage in fifth place overall, 23 seconds back of yesterday’s stage winner Denis Menchov or iBanesto.com. Armstrong finished seventh in yesterday’s stage, 37 seconds back of Menchov, while Bottero finished the stage in 69th place, losing 15:06 to Menchov.

It will now be up to the USPS team to defend Armstrong’s lead.

“The Dauphine is still the Dauphine, it’s a very hard race,” said Bruyneel. “Saturday’s stage is very, very hard with several climbs including the Joux Plane. On the other hand, it’s time for the USPS team to start defending a jersey – we did it for only one day this year at the Midi Libre. It’s good training and a good way for us to get used to the team system of defending the jersey. I feel our team here is strong, all are possible Tour (de France) riders. It will be a good test to see how everyone is. It will also be a good test for me, to get used to the tactics again. It’s time to get going.”

Other top USPS riders in today’s stage were Victor Hugo Pena in 10th place, at 2:50, and Floyd Landis in 17th place, at 3:25. Landis, following an impressive 10th place finish in yesterday’s stage to Mount Ventoux, is in 11th place overall and has impressed Bruyneel.

“Yesterday Floyd was very good – it was the first time I gave him some freedom in a race, the chance to ride his own race and not have to work for Lance,” said Bruyneel. “It is good for us tactically and gives us something else to play with. He did an amazing climb and he was very happy after the stage. The team has expressed confidence in him right from the start of the season and yesterday he really proved us right.”

Another positive has been the performance of Viatcheslav Ekimov, who re-joined the team prior to the Dauphine after retiring at the end of last season. Ekimov was solid at Mount Ventoux – 23rd place, at 4:30 – and was 30th today, at 4:27. Overall, Ekimov is in 23rd place, just under eight minutes back.

“Over here, everyone is really surprised at Ekimov’s performance, but I’m not,” added Bruyneel. “He came with our team to a mountain training camp after the Midi Libre and was already in great shape. We still must be careful with him. He needs to get through this race and then recover from it.

“It’s strange to say, but its like he has never left. That is how I feel and that is how the guys feel.”

The Dauphine Libere continues tomorrow with a 209 km race from Isle-sur-Sorgue to Digne.

1. Santiago Botero, Kelme-Costa Blanca; 52:30
2. Lance Armstrong, U.S. Postal Service; at :42
3. Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel-Euskadi; at 1:49
4. Bradley McGee, La Francaise Des Jeux; at 2:12
5. Didier Rous, Bonjour; at 2:23
10. Victor Hugo Pena, U.S. Postal Service; at 2:50
17. Floyd Landis, U.S. Postal Service; at 3:25
30. Viatcheslav Ekimov, U.S. Postal Service; at 4:27
41. Pavel Padrnos, U.S. Postal Service; at 4:58
43. Benoit Joachim, U.S. Postal Service; at 5:00
69. Steffen Kjaergaard, U.S. Postal Service; at 5:40
89. Jose Luis Rubiera, U.S. Postal Service; at 6:39

1. Armstrong; 9:57:25
2. Zubeldia; at 1:12
3. Denis Menchov, iBanesto.com; at 1:59
4. Christophe Moreau, Credit Agricole; at 2:18
5. Oscar Sevilla, Kelme-Costa Blanca; at 2:57
11. Landis; at 3:56
23. Ekimov; at 7:42
30. Rubiera; at 9:40
61. Joachim; at 17:08
66. Pena; at 18:14
89. Padrnos; at 22:50
99. Kjaergaard; at 26:13

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