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Uphill battle

Armstrong bluffs way to win on Alps

L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France — Riding in the first mountain stage of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong grimaced in apparent pain, lagged at the back of the pack, and looked like his bid for a third title was starting to unravel.

That's exactly what he wanted everyone to believe.

"In cycling, everybody is watching, the (team) directors have TVs, the spectators at home have TVs, so sometimes you have to play that game a little bit," said Armstrong.

He won Tuesday's stage with a powerful surge at the foot of L'Alpe d'Huez that took his rivals — and observers — completely by surprise.

Armstrong made another big move toward a third straight Tour de France title by easily winning Wednesday's mountain time trial. The Texan finished the grueling uphill race a minute faster than his main rival, Germany's Jan Ullrich.

In the cycling marathon's first mountain stage, on Tuesday, he surged past other riders at the foot of L'Alpe d'Huez and powered to the summit. Armstrong said that effort took a lot out of him and warned it would be "tough" to recover.

Nonetheless, on Wednesday his pace was 42 seconds faster than Ullrich's with about 2 1/2 miles left in the 19.87-mile ride from Grenoble to Chamrousse.

Armstrong padded that gap by the end, finishing in 1 hour, 7 minutes, 27 seconds. He pedaled up the 5,019-foot climb at an astonishingly quick pace.

After Tuesday's victory, Armstrong admitted he exploited TV coverage of the race to bluff his competitors.

"I know that they (the team directors) are all sitting back there in the cars watching TV," said the Texan. "I can hear when a motorcycle comes up with a TV camera on it.

"These are no secrets. I assumed that if I had to bluff, then they would ride even harder."

When Armstrong bid for the lead fewer than 12 miles from the end, his rivals were too exhausted to respond.

Ullrich, who led the pack for most of the race, watched helplessly as a revived Armstrong stormed past and disappeared up the mountain.

The victory was a severe blow to any riders hoping to challenge Armstrong for the title.

Ullrich, his main competitor, finished second, 1 minute, 59 seconds off the pace.

Francois Simon of France was about 7 minutes behind Armstrong Wednesday but held on to the overall leader's yellow jersey. Simon is expected to lose more ground over the next three mountain stages in the Pyrenees, where Armstrong now must be considered an even bigger favorite than he was when the Tour de France started.

Armstrong was more than 3:00 ahead of Ullrich in the overall standings after Wednesday's stage.

Thursday is a rest day, and teams will fly from Grenoble to Perpignan. The next stage is 103.4 miles through the Pyrenees mountains in southwest France.