FUTUROSCOPE, France -- Coasting from wine country to cognac country to a theme park, Lance Armstrong could be forgiven for thinking the party had already started.

But the 27-year-old Texan needs to stay upright on his bike for two more days before he can pop open the champagne.Barring a mistimed flat tire or a bad fall, Armstrong will cap his remarkable comeback from cancer with a Tour de France victory Sunday on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

He moved a step closer with Friday's 18th stage, won by Italy's Gianpaolo Mondini. Staying safely in the pack, Armstrong came in 31st and didn't lose a second of his lead of 6 minutes, 15 seconds.

"The tactic is to protect the yellow jersey from danger," said Johan Bruyneel, director of Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team. "We're in an ideal situation, but we have to be careful there isn't an accident.

"We've had the perfect scenario play out here," he said. "I couldn't have made it up myself."

And the scenario couldn't be more promising for today's time trial, Armstrong's specialty. He won the race's other two time trials and is heavily favored in the last one.

His exploits have brought out a larger contingent of American fans. Penny Zim of Peoria, Ill., is in France on a cycling trip and likes what is happening to her sport.

"When you have a huge spread on cycling in the hometown paper, well, that's progress," she said.

French fans are a lot more discouraged. Their countrymen haven't won a stage on this Tour. The last time the French were shut out was in 1926.

Frenchman Jean-Cyril Robin came close Friday with a second-place finish, and Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakstan was third.

In the overall standings, Spain's Fernando Escartin is second, followed by Alex Zulle of Switzerland at 7:28 behind.