Armstrong Back in Yellow in Mountains

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Lance Armstrong

Discovery Channel team rider Lance Armstrong of the U.S. (C) cycles ahead of T-Mobile team riders Jan Ullrich of Germany (L) and Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan (R) during the 10th stage of the 92nd Tour de France. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

Lance Armstrong recaptures the overall lead at the Tour de France during the first stage in the Alps. Armstrong's power in the mountains left his main opponents in serious trouble as the American seeks his seventh consecutive Tour victory.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The news from France is Lance Armstrong has got it again. He took back the lead today at the Tour de France. It was the race's first mountain stage, and that's his specialty. Armstrong laid to rest any doubts about his ability to win the race a seventh time, as Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:

Lance fans who made it to the finish line at the top of the alpine ski resort of Courchevel went wild as their hero took back the leading rider's yellow jersey in a ceremony just after the race.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man #1: (French spoken)

(Soundbite of cheering)

BEARDSLEY: Armstrong finished the race in four hours, 50 minutes, 35 seconds, overpowering his main rivals Ivan Basso, Alexandre Vinokourov and Jan Ullrich, whose painful grimace at the end stood in stark contrast with the ease in which Armstrong seemed to make the last climb. In a last sprint, the young and promising Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde actually crossed the finish line before Armstrong, but Valverde is not considered one of Armstrong's main competitors in this year's race. Andy Hood of VeloNews magazine says Armstrong did the most damage to his competitors on the punishing 14-mile last leg of the climb up to the ski resort.

Mr. ANDY HOOD (VeloNews): It wasn't that Lance was necessarily attacking; he just does his thing where he gets this high-cadence, high-speed kind of spin going and it's just a battle of attrition. Guys just kill themselves to hang on.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: While the Tour de France is the world's most highly competitive individual, grueling cycling race, it is also the ultimate group spectator sport--especially a mountain stage where cyclists go by at only a few miles per hour strung out in a long line. Today's race route was lined with cycling fans who'd set up campers, tents and picnic blankets along the narrow two-lane road. The scene, with its green valleys and snow-capped peaks, made for a great all-day picnic.

Unidentified Man #2: (French spoken)

Unidentified Man #3: (French spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (French spoken)

Unidentified Man #3: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: This group of Frenchmen from Lyon said that while they have deep respect for the superhuman effort of the riders, they admit the main reason they make their yearly pilgrimage to a mountain stage of the tour is because of the camaraderie of the sport.

Unidentified Man #4: (Through Translator) What's most important here is the ambience. And Lance Armstrong has brought a lot of people to the Tour de France in the last seven years. Now it has really become a world party with people from everywhere. We all talk and hang out and eat and drink together.

BEARDSLEY: There were also thousands of amateur cyclists who tried out their skills on the race route hours ahead of their cycling heroes. Before the race, British cyclist Tom Fruit(ph) took a break from the climb to plunge his helmet in the fountain of the tiny roadside village of Chazey-Bons.

(Soundbite of splash)

Unidentified Man #5: You've got to be the one to do it.

Mr. TOM FRUIT (Cyclist): It's brilliant. You spend most of your life riding around trying not to die, getting abuse from members of the public. And today you ride up a road which is almost closed and everyone cheers you and it's just wonderful.

BEARDSLEY: Armstrong will try to keep the yellow jersey in a second mountain stage of the Tour de France tomorrow. The 11th stage from Courchevel to Briancon will test the riders on 102 miles of grueling terrain and mark the halfway point of the tour. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Courchevel, France.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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