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Armstrong Cruises

Cycling: Defending champ finishes second stage in relaxed fashion and is in fourth overall; Spain's Freire wins stage.

July 09, 2002|From Times Wire Services

SAARBRUECKEN, Germany — Lance Armstrong enjoyed a relaxed ride in Monday's stage of the Tour de France, but some riders struggled to get to the finish.

"It was nervous today, but quite easy," the three-time defending champion said.

Armstrong finished the second stage in 61st place, and slipped to fourth in the overall standings. He isn't expected to bid for the lead until the race reaches the mountains next week.

Oscar Freire of Spain won the 112.2-mile trek, sprinting over the line just ahead of the main pack that included Armstrong.

"Considering I didn't even want to take part [in the Tour de France], it's not so bad," Freire said. "[My teammates] told me it was such a big race I had to go--I guess they were right."

Swiss rider Rubens Bertogliati retained the leader's yellow jersey he took from Armstrong on Sunday.

The Texan is taking the early, flat stages easy. But for some, even Monday's ride was nearly too much.

Norway's Thor Hushovd shared the lead for much of the day but finished last after stopping several times with cramps. At one point, he hunched over his handlebars in pain and had to have his thigh massaged by a trainer. He was cheered on by fans as he struggled to the finish line.

"I was surprised by the huge crowds--I was impressed," said Armstrong, favored to win a fourth consecutive title.

Thousands lined the stage route between Luxembourg and the west German city of Saarbruecken to cheer him and other riders, particularly Erik Zabel. One woman had "Zabel" written on her belly in the pink colors of his Telekom team.

But Freire, the world road champion, spoiled the party by outflanking the German in the final few yards to win in 4 hours 19 minutes 51 seconds. Australia's Robbie McEwen placed second and Zabel finished third, in the same time as Freire. The main pack also had the same time.

Zabel, who turned 32 on Sunday, was wearing the green jersey awarded to the Tour's fastest sprinter as he entered Saarbruecken.

"To return to my country in the green jersey, it's still not too bad," he told France-2 Television.

Freire said riders can't always win on their home turf.

"In cycling, when you arrive in your home country, you indeed have more desire to win," Freire said. "But the other rivals also want to win."

There were four crashes in Monday's stage. One of them involved Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teammate Benoit Joachim, who wasn't seriously hurt. Spain's Samuel Sanchez was taken to a hospital in Saarbruecken for X-rays after injuring his right knee and right elbow in the second crash.

Bertogliati said he hadn't expected to retain the lead.

"Today, I had a bit of luck to retain the yellow jersey for a second day," Bertogliati said. "If I hold it again after tomorrow's stage, I'm going to go buy a lottery ticket."

Today's third stage moves into France, a 108.19-mile run from Metz to Reims, the capital of the Champagne region.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

At a Glance

Highlights from the second stage of the Tour de France:

STAGE: A 112.2-mile stretch from Luxembourg to Saarbruecken, Germany.

WINNER: Spain's Oscar Freire, in 4 hours 19 minutes 51 seconds. A pack of 177 other riders finished with the same time.

HOW OTHERS FARED: Rubens Bertogliati of Switzerland was 29th and retained the leader's yellow jersey. Defending champion Lance Armstrong was 61st and is fourth overall.

NEXT STAGE: The race moves into France for a 108.19-mile run from Metz to Reims.

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