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Rediff News  All News  » Sports » Armstrong wins Tour 17th stage

Armstrong wins Tour 17th stage

July 23, 2004 10:27 IST

A ruthless Lance Armstrong refused to allow his rivals a consolation stage victory as he came from behind to outsprint German Andreas Kloeden in the last few metres of the 204.5 km 17th stage of the Tour de France.

Armstrong's fourth win in the five mountain stages of this year's Tour -- he finished second in the other one -- underlined his dominance over his closest rivals as he seeks an unprecedented sixth successive Tour victory.

Germany's Jan Ullrich finished Thursday's stage third while Italian Ivan Basso, who beat Armstrong on the 12th stage, finished fourth and remains second overall, four minutes and nine seconds behind Armstrong with three days to go.

The U.S. Postal team leader, impressive in his time-trial at l'Alpe d'Huez on Wednesday, could have been expected to let his rivals grab a consolation victory in the race's last mountain stage.

However, he refused to allow them the satisfaction and rode down Kloeden in the final metres to seal the 20th individual stage victory of his career, adding to two team time trial victories.

"No gifts this year for stage wins," said the American. "The Tour is too special for me. My condition is super and like everybody saw, the team was unbelievable today, they controlled everything. I had no problems," he added.

The last rider to have won three stages in the Alps in the same Tour was Italy's Gino Bartali in 1948.

The only other rider left with a chance to shine on Thursday was France's Richard Virenque, who took advantage of the five climbs to secure a record seventh King of the Mountains jersey.

The last climb, the Croix de Fry, looked like a lap of honour for the 2004 Tour, with the top-four riders overall -- Armstrong, Basso, Kloeden and Ullrich -- in front, with Armstrong's team mate Floyd Landis opening the way for them.

Armstrong obviously wanted Landis to win but they were taken off guard when Kloeden surged in the last 600 metres but Armstrong refused to allow the German the victory and mercilessly rode him down in the final few metres.

Virenque, who won the 10th stage to St Flour, collected more than 50 points in Thursday's climbs and can not be beaten for the best climber's classification.

With seven polka-dot jerseys, the Quick Step team leader has now eclipsed Spaniard Federico Bahamontes, who won the Tour in 1959, and Belgian Lucien Van Impe, the Tour champion in 1976.

"It was important to score points today and I went for them with my guts," said Virenque. "Now I have left my mark on the Tour de France.

"I don't know what I'll do next year but I've enjoyed this Tour."

Francois Thomazeau
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