DRAGUIGNAN, France — Lance Armstrong maintained his four minute 55 second lead of the Tour de France after Friday's stage, which was won by Spain's Jose Vicente Garcia-Acosta.
The Banesto rider broke away from the leading riders in the closing stages and brilliantly held off a challenge from two Frenchmen, Nicolas Jalabert and Pascal Herve, to win in four hours, three minutes, two seconds.
Jalabert came second in the 115-mile route from Avignon to Draguignan, 25 seconds back, with Herve third, a further two seconds behind.
Armstrong finished in 27th place, 10:06 behind Garcia-Acosta. But he had the same time as Germany's Jan Ullrich, his only realistic rival for the title, so he lost nothing and is a day closer to winning his second straight tour.
As it was Bastille Day, France's national holiday, the thousands of fans that lined the hilly route to Draguignan in southeast France had high hopes.
France's Didier Rous made a brave bid to be the first French winner of a Bastille Day stage since 1997, storming to a five-minute lead at the halfway stage.
But he was caught, and with 37 miles to race he was only one of a group of 13 riders, seven of them French, with a six minute 30 second lead over the
U.S. Postal-led group that includes Armstrong.
With just over 19 miles to go, Garcia-Costa made a sterling break. Jalabert and Herve, roared on by French fans, went in pursuit but weren't strong enough for the 27-year-old Spaniard.
The stage, coming between two of the race's toughest stages, offered some light relief to riders.
It included only three gentle climbs, in contrast to Thursday's punishing climb up Mont Ventoux.
Cyclists headed east from the ancient city of Avignon along hilly roads and past the renowned stone Thoronet Abbey.
Next up is a trek to the Alps, with Saturday's tough 155-mile climb from Draguignan to Briancon.