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Armstrong lags behind as race heads to Alps

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AIX-LES-BAINS, France — Russia's Serguei Ivanov won the ninth stage of the Tour de France on Monday, and Australia's Stuart O'Grady again held the yellow jersey.

Lance Armstrong, going for a third straight title, finished in 32nd place, 24 seconds behind Ivanov. The Texan is 23rd in the overall standings, 35 minutes, 19 seconds off the lead.

Armstrong still holds a 27-second lead over his main challenger, Germany's Jan Ullrich. Both cyclists are expected to be a force in the mountains.

The Tour heads into the Alps on Tuesday. After two days, the race moves to the Pyrenees for another three days of grueling climbs. Many riders abandon the Tour during these stages.

Ivanov was part of an early break from the main pack. The Fassa Bortolo rider crossed the finish line in 3:57:48. Spain's David Etxebarria was second and Australia's Bradley McGee was third.

O'Grady was more than 20 seconds off the pace, but it was enough for the Credit Agricole rider to retain his overall lead.

The 115-mile stretch took riders from Pontarlier in the Jura mountains to this town at the foot of the French Alps.

On Sunday, Armstrong, riding through France's Jura mountains might have enjoyed the lush green pastures, the gentle murmur of the Doubs river or the pretty houses with their low, wide roofs.

He certainly had enough time.

The defending Tour de France champion crossed the finish line of Sunday's eighth leg nearly 36 minutes behind the stage winner.

The Texan was in good company. All the title favorites — Armstrong included — were in the main pack, which finished 35 minutes and 54 seconds after Erik Dekker.

It was the biggest gap between a leader and the main pack in modern tour history, which dates back to 1947.

The previous record, set in 1976, was a comparatively paltry 22:50.

Dekker, from the Netherlands, attributed his victory to the cold weather, which was accompanied by heavy rain.

"It was cold, and when you're in a breakaway group, you get home quicker," he said. He completed the 138.17-mile stretch from Colmar to this town near the Swiss border in 4:59:18.

Spaniard Aitor Gonzalez was second and Dutchman Servais Knaven was third. They were beaten in the sprint finish and clocked the same time as Dekker.

Stuart O'Grady from Australia arrived 2:32 later, taking fifth place and reclaiming the race leader's yellow jersey.

The stage left the Credit Agricole rider atop the race standings with a 35:19 advantage over the 24th-ranked Armstrong.

The U.S. Postal Service rider isn't worried about the deficit.

"It was very hard today because of the cold," he said Sunday after reaching Pontarlier. "The race will start in two days."

On Tuesday, the tour heads into the Alps for the first mountain stages. After two days, the race moves to the Pyrenees for another three days of grueling climbs. Many riders abandon the tour during these stages.

Although O'Grady's lead is impressive, he is not known as a good climber and is unlikely to do well in the mountains, whereas Armstrong is expected to be in top form. He is favored to make a bid for the race lead in the peaks.

The American still has a 27-second lead over his main challenger, Germany's Jan Ullrich, also expected to be a force in the mountains.

Monday's stage is a 114.89-mile stretch from Pontarlier to Aix-les-Bains at the foot of the Alps.