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ARMSTRONG WINS HIS THIRD STAGE TO MAINTAIN LEAD

Defending champion Lance Armstrong won his third stage of the Tour DuPont on Sunday, prevailing on a day when crashes littered the road and heavy rain and hail pelted riders the last nine miles.

In capturing the fifth stage, Armstrong got late help from a teammate in increasing his overall lead to 26 seconds, winning the 112.5-mile Mount Airy-to-Roanoke road race in 4 hours, 41 minutes, 19 seconds.Armstrong of Austin, Texas, avoided at least two crashes in the waning miles that included his primary rival, Tony Rominger of Switzerland.

"It was a nervous day," Armstrong said. "The weather surprised us and changed the race. Weather like that can not only change the day, it can change the whole race."

Armstrong, who emerged off the wheel of teammate Alex Merckx in the final 200 yards, won by 16 seconds. He was followed by Jean Cyril Robin of France (Festina), with Federico Echave of Spain (Mapei-GB) third in the same time.

Armstrong, the team leader of Motorola who assumed the race lead after winning the second stage Thursday, gained a 10-second bonus for his win. But the slippery conditions cost Rominger 16 seconds and could have cost him additional time.

The reigning Tour of Italy winner and the world's No. 2 cyclist fell with two other riders with about one mile left. He sustained arm, leg and tailbone abrasions.

Although Rominger finished 1:08 behind the winner, race officials ruled he should given the same time as a trailing group, 16 seconds behind the winner, because they couldn't determine who crashed and who slowed to avoid the crashes.

"It was a crash festival today," chief official Gunter Koch said. "We had to do this. No one could take all the numbers. It was a sporting decision."

Armstrong leads Rominger by 1:01, with Daniele Nardello of Italy (Mapei-GB) third, 1:09 behind.

"When you are out there alone, you need a teammate," Armstrong said. "He can control sprint, and I felt confident. But it was a difficult sprint and hard to control the roads."

The field of 112 hadn't lost a rider through four stages, but former two-time race leader Malcolm Elliott of Britain became the first abandonment during the fifth stage.