Armstrong Exits Mountain Stages With Lead |

Armstrong Exits Mountain Stages With Lead

AP Photo/Peter DejongOscar Pereiro Sio of Spain reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the 16th stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Mourenx and Pau, southwestern France, Tuesday, July 19, 2005.

PAU, France (AP) — Lance Armstrong protected his comfortable lead on the Tour de France’s last day in the high mountains, finishing Tuesday in a pack with his main rivals behind stage winner Oscar Pereiro.

Now, the only things standing between Armstrong and a seventh consecutive Tour title are a time trial, two medium mountain stages and two mostly flat stages, including the last ride into Paris on Sunday.

Pereiro beat a fellow Spaniard, Xabier Zandio, and two other riders in a finishing sprint to win Tuesday’s stage. Armstrong trailed in a group with his main rivals, keeping his overall lead over second-place Ivan Basso at 2 minutes, 46 seconds.

Armstrong’s main rivals, sensing that their chances of catching the American are slipping away, tried testing him again on two main climbs in stage 16 from Mourenx to Pau, the last of three days in the Pyrenees that straddle France and Spain.

But Armstrong comfortably matched their uphill accelerations – and cruised to the finish looking relaxed. He finished in a group with Basso, Jan Ullrich and other top riders, all 3:24 behind Pereiro.

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The Spaniard’s win, his first at the Tour, made up for his disappointment Sunday in the 15th stage, when he placed second, beaten in a finishing sprint by Armstrong’s Discovery Channel teammate, George Hincapie.

Pereiro completed Tuesday’s 112.2-mile trek in 4:38.40, this time coming out on top in a final sprint against three other riders.

Basso is looking to improve on his third-place finish last year. Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark is third, 3:09 behind Armstrong, and 1997 winner Ullrich is fourth overall, trailing Armstrong by 5:58.

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