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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Armstrong Rival Ullrich Is King of the Road Race

September 27, 2000|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Lance Armstrong says he doesn't wake up every day and say, "I want to be an inspiration."

But Armstrong is. He always is. Armstrong will always be the cancer survivor and it is a label Armstrong will always be proud to wear.

Armstrong had his first Olympic race to today and won no medal.

His best medal hope is Saturday in the time trials. Armstrong said what he wanted to do in the road race was ride 239.4 kilometers--nearly 150 miles--and do whatever he could to help one of his U.S. teammates win.

"I'm at their disposal," Armstrong said. "When I look around this team, I don't see anyone who is here for themselves."

His teammates didn't medal either. Germany's Jan Ullrich, ranked No. 1 in the world in road racing and runner-up to Armstrong at the Tour de France, won the gold medal in a time of 5:29.08. Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan won the silver in a time of 5:29.17 with Ullrich's German teammate Andreas Kloeden winning bronze in 5:29.20.

The top American finisher was 27-year-old George Hincapie of Greenville, S.C. Hincapie, in his third Olympics, had a time of 5:30.34 and finished eighth. Armstrong finished 13th. Antonio Cruz of Long Beach finished 52nd.

Armstrong said that at the beginning of the last lap he looked at Hincapie. What the two thought they saw was a group of eight.

"We looked at each other and said, 'Sweet, we've got two guys in the top eight going for gold.' Then I looked up at the video screen and said to George, 'Who's that?' "

Hincapie's answer wasn't printable. What Armstrong and Hincapie missed was the breakaway of the leaders on the second-to-last of the 14 laps.

For the last lap, 20 minutes or so, the three leaders rode alone. They were talking to each other and there was no sprint to the finish. Ullrich, who Armstrong had predicted would be the winner, stood up in his seat for the last quarter mile and rode with no arms on the handlebars because he was waving in triumph.

Kloeden seemed to let Vinokourov take the silver.

"The tactics didn't roll our way," Armstrong said. "Unfortunately those three guys were already gone and we weren't going to catch them."

The Tour de France will always be Armstrong's ultimate triumph, Armstrong knows what will earn him more respect in the United States.

"Winning an Olympic medal would make a difference in getting cycling more noticed," Armstrong said. "Other than that, the only thing I can do is try to educate American fans about the tactics of racing.

"It was a little bit of a lottery tonight. I could say I'm damn disappointed. But I think I can make it up on Saturday [in the time trials]. Nobody can hide on Saturday. Saturday it's a race of truth."

The world knows Armstrong's story, of his recovery from testicular cancer which had spread to his lungs and brain. The world knows of his triumphant return to cycling and his winning of two Tour de France titles in a row.

Less than a month ago Armstrong had broken a bone in his neck. He had been hit by a car on a practice ride in France. American teammate Eric Hamilton was riding with Armstrong.

"I assumed the worst," Hamilton said. "The impact was amazing--so loud. I saw Lance flying and I didn't think the outcome would be too good. If you saw his bike, you wouldn't believe the condition he's in now."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDAL WINNERS

Gold; Jan Ullrich, Germany

Silver: Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan

Bronze: Andreas Kloeden, Germay

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