Armstrong hitting form for the Tour

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Lance Armstrong went up a gear in his preparations to defend his Tour de France title with second place in the Paris-Camembert classic yesterday.

The US Postal rider finished six seconds behind the Frenchman Didier Rous of the Bonjour team in the 208-kilometre race to Vimoutiers. Spain's Igor Flores of Euskaltel took third.

Rous broke clear at the end of a lively race, which saw an average speed of 43.63kph, thanks to a tailwind. With just over 8km to go, a breakaway group that had been away from the pack for 67km - Igor Flores, Patrice Halgand and Yvon Ledanois - was caught by the main chase group, which included Rous, Armstrong, Sergei Ivanov, Benoit Salmon, David Etxebarria and Haimar Zubeldia. Moments later, Rous made his move, and went on to a solo victory, just a few seconds ahead of the chasers.

In the sprint for second, Armstrong beat out the promising Spaniard, Flores. Following the race, Johan Bruyneel, the US Postal sporting director, said that with a little more than two months remaining until the Tour de France, Armstrong is in better shape than he was at this time last season, when he took second at the Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands.

"His physical form is better than last year, but [last year] he had a great day at Amstel," said Bruyneel. "This year, he will follow close to the same program, but he will not use up as much energy for the reconnaissance of the [Tour] stages. That requires travel and organisation. At the Dauphiné [Libéré] there are two stages close to identical to those in the Tour."

Armstrong's preparations for July's Tour include next month's Midi Libre and races in June including the Classique des Alpes, and Dauphiné.

PARIS-CAMEMBERT CLASSIC: Final stage: 1 D Rous (Fr) Bonjour 4hr 43min 17sec; 2 L Armstrong (US) US Postal +6sec; 3 I Flores (Sp) Euskaltel; 4 Y Ledanois (Fr); 5 P Halgand (Fr); 6 B Salmon (Fr); 7 S Ivanov (Rus); 8 U Extebarria (Ven) all same time; 9 H Zubeldia (Sp) +13; 10 S Hinault (Fr) 46.