Armstrong struggling in build-up to the Tour

Lance Armstrong continued his uneven approach towards his final Tour de France yesterday with a less than impressive fourth place on stage four of the Dauphiné Libéré at the summit finish of the Mont Ventoux climb.

"I suffered a lot and I'm a little disappointed." Armstrong, who finished 37 seconds down on stage winner Alexandre Vinokourov - one of his rivals for the 2005 Tour - said afterwards. "I wouldn't say this was a great performance, not even that I got through OK."

Twice dropped on the daunting 25km climb by the main favourites, Armstrong was unable to respond when Vinokourov attacked. The Texan did put in a late burst within sight of the finish line, enabling him to regain seven seconds on the race leader Levi Leipheimer and move up to second overall.

Armstrong has regularly used the Dauphiné Libéré as a final warm-up for the Tour and as a means of striking a psychological blow prior to the main event. But a fifth place in the opening prologue on Sunday, a third in Wednesday's time trial and now fourth on the Ventoux may indicate the American, now 33, cannot crush his rivals with the ease of previous years.

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for 'Cycling Weekly'

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