| ||Associated Press|
FUTUROSCOPE, France -- Lance Armstrong got off to a good
start in defense of his Tour de France title with a second-place
finish Saturday in the opening time trial.
Britain's David Millar was the winner of the stage, a 10.3-mile
sprint. He was timed in 19 minutes, 3 seconds, just 2 second faster
than the American in a race against the clock around a futuristic
theme park in western France.
Armstrong temporarily relinquished his yellow jersey, but
finished well ahead of Germany's Jan Ullrich, Switzerland's Alex
Zulle and Italy's Marco Pantani, all considered possible threats to
France's Laurent Jalabert finished third, 13 seconds behind the
leader, while Ullrich, the 1997 champion, was another second back.
Zulle, second overall last year, finished sixth, 20 seconds
behind the leader. Pantani, the 1998 champion, was well back in
136th place, 2:36 behind.
It was a stunning victory for Millar, the only Briton in the
race. He's a time-trial specialist, but was not expected to win in
such a star-studded field.
"I never really thought about the possibility of getting
yellow," said Millar, who planned to sleep Saturday night in his
jersey. "To beat someone like Lance surprised me greatly.
"I didn't want to believe it until I saw him crossing the line.
Beating him in one of his specialties was very moving."
Armstrong, as defending champion, was last to race and knew
exactly what he had to do. At the first time check, he had the best
time, but just failed to beat Millar in the end.
It was at the same venue last year -- Futuroscope Park -- that
Armstrong, on the Tour's next-to-last stage, won a time trial to
virtually assure his overall victory, just three years after being
diagnosed with testicular cancer.
The cancer had spread to his brain and lungs, and doctors gave
him only a 50-percent chance of survival. After surgery and
intensive chemotherapy, he returned to cycling.
His victory by more than seven minutes last year in cycling's
showcase event, confounded doctors, rivals and teammates. On his
way to victory, he won all three time trials.
This year, Armstrong knew another win would leave his rivals --
some of whom branded his 1999 victory a fluke -- psychologically
scarred before the real road racing begins.
But competition is stiffer, with the return of Italian Marco
Pantani and Ullrich, both past Tour winners.
Road racing begins on Sunday with a 120-mile trek from
Futuroscope to Loudun in northwest France. The Tour ends July 23 in
Tour officials were hoping that year's race would help repair
cycling's battered image following the 1998 doping debacle when
teams were kicked out after admitting to widespread drug abuse and
police raided hotels searching for banned substances.
But three of the 180 riders were expelled on Saturday, just
hours before the first stage was to begin. Ousted were Russian
Sergei Ivanov, Italian Rossano Brasi and Slovenian Andrej Hauptman.
All failed a mandatory blood test aimed at detecting the use of
erythropoietin, or EPO, a synthetic hormone that stimulates the
production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Riders who are found to have a red blood cell count above 50
percent are given a compulsory 15-day ban on health grounds.
Tour de France glance
FUTUROSCOPE, France (AP) - A look at Saturday's opening leg of
the 87th Tour de France:
STAGE: A 10.3-mile individual time trial around the
Futuroscope theme park in western France.
STAGE WINNER: Britain's David Millar in 19 minutes, 3 seconds.
HOW OTHERS FARED: Defending champion Lance Armstrong finished
in second place, two seconds behind Millar. Jan Ullrich, the 1997
Tour winner, was fourth, 14 seconds back. Alex Zulle, last year's
runner-up, finished sixth, 20 seconds behind Millar. Marco Pantani,
champion two years ago, was a distant 136th and already has more
than two minutes to make up.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "To beat someone like Lance surprised me
greatly. I didn't want to believe it until I saw him crossing the
line. ... I'm going to sleep in the yellow jersey tonight." -- David Millar
NEXT STAGE: Road racing begins Sunday with a 120-mile trek
from Futuroscope to Loudun as the Tour begins its move toward
David Millar of Britain wins Stage One with a time of 19 minutes, 3 seconds. (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
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Lance Armstrong falls two seconds short in the time trial. (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
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David Millar doesn't want to take off the yellow jersey. (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
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