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Tour de France

Armstrong surges to 3d overall

Christmas in July? No, just fans dressed as Father Christmas having a merry time at the Tour. Christmas in July? No, just fans dressed as Father Christmas having a merry time at the Tour. (Joel Sagat/AFP/Getty Images)
By Jamey Keatem
Associated Press / July 7, 2009
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LA GRANDE-MOTTE, France - If age is Lance Armstrong’s enemy, then experience is his friend.

With a savvy sense of the pack and a touch of luck, Armstrong, 37, surprised some of the younger Tour de France contenders yesterday to move within striking distance of the yellow jersey.

He made up for what his legs lack in power with road smarts during the breezy third stage along the Mediterranean, jumping from 10th to third place.

Armstrong hitched a ride with a breakaway group led by old sidekick George Hincapie’s Team Columbia. Mark Cavendish, a Columbia rider from Great Britain, won the stage for the second straight day.

Race leader Fabian Cancellara from Switzerland kept the yellow jersey for a third straight day. Cancellara extended his lead and is ahead of Columbia rider Tony Martin of Germany by 33 seconds and Armstrong by 40.

Most of the favorites were trapped by the wind during the 122-mile ride from Marseille to La Grande-Motte. Sensing the gusts were playing havoc ahead of a turn with about 18 miles to go, Armstrong simply stayed in front, outfoxing riders such as Spain’s Alberto Contador, the 2007 winner and favorite this year.

“Good positioning, experience, a little bit of luck,’’ Armstrong said. “Just before that corner I was 20 guys back and I decided just that idea to move up enough to be on their wheel. And there it went.

“Whenever you see a team lined up at the front like that, you have to pay attention,’’ he added. “You know what the wind’s doing, and you see that a turn’s coming up, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you have to go to the front.’’

But Contador didn’t. Nor did contenders Levi Leipheimer of the United States, Cadel Evans of Australia or 2008 champion, Spain’s Carlos Sastre.

“I was moving up with a teammate and we ended up in no man’s land,’’ said Contador, who dropped from second to fourth overall, 59 seconds behind Cancellara. “I’m not going to evaluate the team strategy because everyone will draw their own conclusions anyway. In any case, the Tour won’t be decided by what happened [yesterday].’’

Armstrong, a seven-time champion coming out of retirement, agrees.

“Gained valuable time but most likely minor in scheme of 3 weeks,’’ he wrote on his Twitter account. The race finishes July 26 in Paris. “Onward.’’

Today’s stage is a 24-mile team time trial that starts and finishes in Montpellier. Astana will have an edge by riding last and seeing how riders fare. The teams set off at seven-minute intervals in a race against the clock.