Armstrong wins Tour de France

 

American Lance Armstrong rode triumphantly up the Champs Elysees and to his third consecutive Tour de France title today after a 20th stage largely dominated by the battle for the green points jersey.

Czech rider Jan Svorada of the Lampre team won the stage in 3hr 57min 28sec, with Erik Zabel doing enough to win his sixth consecutive greenjersey and deny Australian Stuart O'Grady for the third time.

Zabel came second with O'Grady in third.

Armstrong, the 29-year-old US Postal team leader who came in with the bunch after the 160.5km final stage from Corbeil-Essonnes to here, thusbecomes the first American to win the Tour three times consecutively.

Armstrong, who won four stages to take his tally to 11, took hold of the leader's yellow jersey after the 13th stage. His third win is the sixth forthe United States after the triple success of compatriot Greg LeMond in 1986, 1989, and 1990.

With Armstrong virtually assured of victory with a 6min 44sec lead over closest challenger Jan Ullrich of Germany, the stage was dominated by thebattle between green jersey holder O'Grady and five-times winner Zabel.

O'Grady, who had come second behind Zabel twice previously, had this year took the battle to his perennial German rival down to the last day -the closest attention Zabel has been given in his long reign.

Going into the stage O'Grady held only a two-point lead over Zabel, who had done much to get back into contention on Saturday, but that wasreduced after only 28.5km of riding.

Only seconds before the first bonus sprint the pink Telekom machine was put in motion, with Giuseppe Guerini, Kevin Livingston, Udo Bolts, andAndreas Kloden setting the pace for Zabel to follow through.

The Credit Agricole team trailed behind, and when it came to the sprint O'Grady failed to match his German nemesis, the Australian taking fourpoints while Zabel collected the full six to set both level on 216 apiece.

The peloton regained its festive air after the relatively stressful sprint - with a number of riders taking photos to remind them of their achievement- but O'Grady and Zabel were otherwise occupied.

Telekom again dominated the second sprint despite moves to counter their efforts by an early move by Credti Agricole's Frenchman FredericBessy.

Only 1km from the second intermediate sprint the pink train held sway at the front of the peloton, with O'Grady left to fight his own battle for thepoints.

The Australian seemed content to keep whatever he had left for the final sprint at the finish as Zabel again took the honours to move four pointsahead of O'Grady who came third behind Vinokurov.

However, in the final kilometre - marked by a solo attack by Vinokurov - O'Grady again found himself behind the sprinting powerhouse from EastGermany, and on the line his final efforts proved futile.

AFP