SAINT-BRIEUC, France -- Lance Armstrong finished in a pack of riders behind Italy's Filippo Pozzato in the seventh stage of the Tour de France yesterday, and remained in sixth place overall after the first week of cycling's premier race.
Armstrong, trying for a record sixth straight Tour victory, finished the stage 55th, 10 seconds behind the winner. He has been ceding stage wins to lesser-known rivals and sprinters early in the three-week race, waiting for harder stages to make his push to the front.
Pozzato, of the Fasso Bartolo team, led a three-man breakaway and finished the 127.08-mile leg from Chateaubriant to Saint-Brieuc in 4 hours 31 minutes 34 seconds -- just ahead of Spaniards Iker Flores and Francisco Mancebo.
"It's the most beautiful win of my career," said Pozzato, a 22-year-old riding in his first Tour. "It's a very nice win after a hard finish."
Armstrong is 9:35 behind overall leader Thomas Voeckler of France, who crossed the line in the peloton with the 32-year-old Texan and retained the overall leader's yellow jersey.
Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion and Armstrong's chief rival, placed 30th in the stage, 10 seconds behind. He is in 22d overall, 10:30 back.
Cyclists faced brief showers and windy conditions in the stage, adding to nervous riding.
"We all anticipated that the coast there would be windy and it was for a little bit when it was storming, but it lined up after we got dry," Armstrong said.
"It was a kind of scary for a while. But what's new?" he said, referring to a first week filled with crashes, including one that briefly brought down the champion Friday.
The Danish CSC team took advantage of the rain and pounced upon an unsuspecting pack as it swung past the Brittany coast near the 93-mile mark. The pack, led partly by Armstrong's US Postal Service team, gave chase and reeled them in.
Armstrong said there was little flair to yesterday's stage, but that was needed after a week of rain-soaked roads and crashes.
"I thought you'd have more spice in the race, but I think guys are tired and stressed from all the crashes," he said.
Cyclists ran into all sorts of fan hazards in the last 6.2 miles, including smoky flares and crowds spilling into the streets as the riders roared by.
For a second straight day, Armstrong had critical words for Tour organizers, saying they should have planned a time trial in the first week to ease the nervousness in early, flat stages. Earlier yesterday, the Tour announced that Belgian rider Christophe Brandt tested positive for a heroin substitute and withdrew from the race.