Tour de France: Armstrong seizes yellow jersey

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The Independent Online

Lance Armstrong's final assault on this year's Tour began impressively as the American seized the yellow jersey with a fine stage win at Villard-de-Lans.

Lance Armstrong's final assault on this year's Tour began impressively as the American seized the yellow jersey with a fine stage win at Villard-de-Lans.

Easily outsprinting the four riders still with him at the finish, the 32-year-old punched the air as he crossed the line for his second consecutive mountain stage victory in four days.

"Winning alone's not such an intense feeling," Armstrong said, "and starting [today's] Alpe D'Huez time trial in yellow will be very special too."

Armstrong's shredding of his rivals in the Pyrenees were destined to topple the 10-day leader Thomas Voeckler. Only 22 seconds ahead of the American on the general classification before yesterday's stage, the Frenchman slid back from the main peloton on a mid-stage climb, the Echarrasson, finally ceding 9min 28sec to Armstrong.

A lone charge by the 1997 Tour winner, Jan Ullrich, on the ascent where Voeckler cracked further splintered the Armstrong group. For half an hour it appeared the Texan might be heading for trouble, but the German's overly bold move ended 20km on thanks to a joint effort by the American's squad and the CSC team of Ivan Basso, second overall.

Following a twisting descent, a 10-man lead group controlled by Armstrong and his team-mate Jose Azevedo, together with CSC, then tackled the last second-category climb of the day. Such was the pace the tiny pack was whittled down to five in the final kilometre, but Armstrong could not be shaken.

Ullrich's half-hearted attempts to go for a stage win were foiled by the Texan's superiority in the charge for the line, which gained Armstrong the 18th Tour stage of his career along with a 20-second time bonus and the yellow jersey. Today's time trial up the 15.5km Alpe D'Huez ascent, one of cycling's great climbs, should seal his record-breaking sixth consecutive Tour.

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