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Armstrong's Focus Is Key

Cycling: Three-time champion doesn't figure to repeat Delgado's blunder as he begins quest for another title.

July 06, 2002|BONNIE DeSIMONE | CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LUXEMBOURG — The last time the Tour de France started here, the defending champion may have blown the race before he even got on his bike.

By tradition, 1988 winner Pedro Delgado of Spain was slated to start last the next year. Triple champion Lance Armstrong will have that honor today as the 189 riders take off at one-minute intervals for the 4.2-mile sprint.

But 13 years ago, Delgado's start time came and went and the ramp remained empty. Delgado, chatting with fans on a side street, had lost track of the time.

By the time he realized his mistake and pushed his way frantically through the crowd, holding his bike in front of him, more than two minutes had elapsed.

He finished the stage 2 minutes 54 seconds behind the leader and never fully recovered, finishing third that year as eventual winner Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon battled it out in the last stage in the closest Tour finish in history.

Luxembourg is the only place outside France to have played host to the start of the Tour more than once.

The course, a madcap, twisting loop through the oldest part of the capital, starts with a sizable downhill and features cobblestoned streets and hairpin turns.

It could be slick if it rains, as expected. Riders are expected to complete the course in approximately eight minutes, reaching speeds of about 30 mph.

Australian rider Bradley McGee, Colombian Santiago Botero and Igor Gonzales Galdeano of Spain have shown strength in time trials this season and should be contenders for the first yellow jersey awarded in the race.

Armstrong should be among the leaders, but winning the stage is not critical to his overall race strategy.

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