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Landis cracks in Alps; Rasmussen wins stage

LA TOUSSUIRE, France -- In a single torturous Alpine stage,
Floyd Landis' lead and chance for a Tour de France victory slipped
away almost pitifully Wednesday as rider after rider passed him on
the punishing final climb.

Abandoned by his teammates, Landis fell apart, dropped to 11th
place and lost the leader's yellow jersey a day after regaining it
in a spectacular ride up the famed L'Alpe d'Huez.

Landis, now 8 minutes, 8 seconds, behind new race leader Oscar
Pereiro, was unable to attack, let alone intimidate his rivals --
which was Lance Armstrong's calling card en route to a record seven
Tour wins.

"I suffered from the beginning, and I tried to hide it,"
Landis said. "I don't expect to win the Tour at this point. It's
not easy to get back 8 minutes."

With about eight miles to go up La Toussuire, Spain's Carlos
Sastre burst out of a small group of would-be favorites that
included Landis, and Pereiro and several other contenders gave
chase.

The American simply couldn't keep up, losing the 10-second lead
he started the day with.

"Sometimes you don't feel well, and sometimes it's on the wrong
day. What can I say?" asked Landis, who is riding with an injured
hip.

And with that, Landis went in search of something cold and
soothing.

"Drink some beer ... that's all I'm thinking about now," he
said, adding: "I would be lying if I said I was not
disappointed."

So it goes in this topsy-turvy Tour, the first in the
post-Armstrong era.

It's been strange from the get-go.

On the eve of the July 1 start, nine riders -- including pre-race
favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso -- were sent home after they
were implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.

Ever since, the race has lacked a clear leader. Seven riders
have worn yellow -- one fewer than the record. Landis and Pereiro
each have led twice since the American first won the leader's
jersey last Thursday.

The first time, Phonak took a gamble: It allowed Pereiro to take
the yellow jersey on Saturday by not laying chase as the Spaniard
broke away and, in the end, erased a deficit of nearly 30 minutes
against Landis.

Landis regained the lead Tuesday by shadowing Germany's Andreas
Kloeden, runner-up to Armstrong in 2004, to make sure that he
didn't gain time on him.

When Pereiro regained the lead Wednesday, Phonak's original plan
appeared to have backfired, and the team looked as if it badly
underestimated one of its riders.

"It was difficult to imagine that things would turn out like
this," Pereiro said. "Floyd Landis seemed untouchable, but like
everybody, he wasn't immune to collapse.

"Something in me said that today could be my day," he added.

Denmark's Mickael Rasmussen won the 113-mile stage through the
Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix-de-Fer -- two climbs so hard
that they defy classification in the cycling's ranking system --
before the uphill finish.

Kloeden, who finished fifth, was escorted by two T-Mobile
teammates up that climb. Landis finished alongside Phonak teammate
Axel Merckx, but only because the American had dropped so far
behind.

All along, Landis hasn't been in tip-top shape.

He surprised many Tour fans last week by announcing that he was
riding with increasing pain in a right hip that had been damaged in
a 2003 crash, and planned to have surgery on it this fall. It
raised the prospect that Landis -- like cancer survivor Armstrong --
could overcome adversity and win cycling's premier race.

Landis insisted the hip wasn't a factor Wednesday.

Pereiro, meantime, has been one of the biggest surprises at the
Tour. Even though he was a Top 10 finisher the last two years, he
had come in primarily as a support rider for Illes Balears teammate
Alejandro Valverde, who crashed out in Stage 3 with a broken right
collarbone.

Overall, Pereiro holds a 1:50 lead over Sastre in second, and
2:29 ahead of Kloeden in third.

Like Pereiro, the other two are also former support riders for
their fallen team leaders: Kloeden for Ullrich at T-Mobile; Sastre
for Basso at Team CSC.

Landis says he thinks all three have a shot at the title with a
final Alpine stage Thursday and a penultimate individual time trial
Saturday.

The race ends Sunday in Paris.