LES DEUX-ALPES, France — Spanish rival Joseba Beloki surprised Lance Armstrong briefly in Tuesday's 15th stage--the longest of the Tour de France at 140.43 miles--by surging ahead in the final stretch.
But Armstrong kept his overall lead of 4 minutes 21 seconds by giving chase and crossing the line just behind Beloki to clock the same time.
"Les Deux-Alpes, it's not too hard, it's not good for attacking," Armstrong said after the stage, which Colombian rider Santiago Botero won in 5:55:16.
Armstrong was ninth, 6:41 off the pace but remains on target to win his fourth consecutive Tour.
The mountain stage from Vaison-la-Romaine in the southern Provence region to this ski station was the first in the Alps this year. But it wasn't as hard as the two earlier legs in the Pyrenees--both won by Armstrong--or the trek to the top of the Mont Ventoux, in which he extended his lead.
Also, it is much easier than today's stretch from Les Deux-Alpes to La Plagne, which features three exceptionally difficult climbs.
Armstrong prefers to be aggressive and attack in the harder stages, in which rivals are less likely to match his pace. At the Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees and on the Ventoux, the Texan left Beloki stranded as he sprinted to the summit.
The ride to La Plagne takes Armstrong over the Col de la Madeleine mountain pass, which he tackled last year in one of his biggest stage wins. Memorably, he grimaced in apparent pain during that climb, then sprinted up the last stretch to L'Alpe d'Huez. He later acknowledged he had bluffed his rivals into thinking he was tiring.
Botero's win was his second in this Tour.
The 1997 Tour champion, Jan Ullrich, was banned from cycling for six months after testing positive for amphetamines.
Ullrich was given half the maximum suspension and was fined $1,400, the German cycling federation said.
A three-person disciplinary panel decided to impose the minimum penalty because it determined that Ullrich did not take the amphetamines to enhance his performance.
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At a Glance
Highlights from the 15th stage of the Tour de France:
Stage: 140.43 miles from Vaison-la-Romaine in the southern Provence region to Les Deux-Alpes, a ski station. It's the longest stage of this year's race.
Winner: Santiago Botero of Colombia, in 5 hours 55 minutes 16 seconds.
How others fared: Three-time defending champion Lance Armstrong retained the overall lead despite finishing the stage in ninth place, 6:41 behind Botero. Armstrong's lead over second-place Joseba Beloki in the overall standings was unchanged at 4:21.
Next stage: 111.5 miles from Les Deux-Alpes to La Plagne, featuring three exceptionally difficult climbs.