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O'Grady retains lead while Armstong holds position

STRASBOURG, France -- Estonian Jaan
Kirsipuu won a sprint finish at the end of the sixth stage of
the Tour de France on Friday, with Stuart O'Grady doing enough
to hold on to the race leader's yellow jersey.

Defending champion Lance Armstrong, who lost ground in the
team time trial on Thursday, had an uneventful day over the
211.5-kilometer course from Commercy, taking the category two
climb of Col du Donon with ease and finishing safely in the main
bunch.

He remains in 15th place in general classification, behind
Joseba Beloki and Christophe Moreau but 27 seconds clear of Jan
Ullrich, the German he sees as the main threat to his hat-trick
chances.

Australia's O'Grady had another strong run on Friday,
finishing fifth in the sprint to keep hold of the yellow jersey
he claimed on Tuesday.

Kirsipuu edged out Damien Nazon of France and the Czech Jan
Svorada to take the tape in a time of four hours 50 minutes 39
seconds.

Belgium's Tom Steels, who finished the race in fourth, was
relegated down to the back of the bunch -- 160th but still in
the same time as the winner -- for taking an irregular line in
the sprint.

It was a second Tour stage win for Kirsipuu, who won a
finish in Challans in 1999, and it came as a relief after a
disappointing race last year.

"It was a black year for me last year," said the Estonian.
"I was losing confidence so I'm very happy to win today."

After a couple of half-hearted escape attempts, the
significant break of the day began at the 45-km mark.

Axel Merckx, Rik Verbrugghe, Michele Bartoli, Laurent
Brochard and, significantly, Frederic Bessy of O'Grady's Credit
Agricole team gained just over three minutes on the main bunch
and held that advantage for 150 kms, easily the longest break of
the Tour so far.

However Bessy made sure the leading group did not get too
far ahead, and threaten O'Grady's yellow jersey, allowing the
peleton to catch the breakout riders and have a final bunch
sprint.

Britain's David Millar was once again the last man home,
dropping another 16 minutes 35 seconds on the leaders to keep
firm hold of the honorary lanterne rouge prize for the last man
in the overall standings.

Two more riders abandoned on Friday, Santos Gonzalez of ONCE
and Olivier Trastour of Jean Delatour, cutting the field to 183
from the 189 that started out in Dunkirk on Saturday.

The race continues on Saturday with a hilly 162.5-km stage
from Strasbourg to Colmar that is likely to be a tougher test.