Originally created 07/18/02

Child's death overshadows Armstrong's ride to foot of mountains



PAU, France -- A child's death overshadowed Lance Armstrong's ride to the foot of the Pyrenees, where he is expected to make his first serious assault on this year's Tour de France.

Before riders started Wednesday's 10th leg from Bazas to Pau, a car from the Tour convoy struck and killed a 7-year-old boy who was crossing the stage route.

"It's a tragedy," deputy Tour director Daniel Baal said. "A child's death puts everything else into perspective."

The boy, Melvin Pompele, was one of thousands of fans who line the Tour route every day to cheer riders and receive small gifts from race sponsors. Only short stretches of the route have safety barriers.

Pompele was hit by a car belonging to candy maker Haribo, but Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said there was no evidence the boy was reaching for candy thrown from the vehicle when he was hit.

Leblanc added that a moment of silence would be held on Thursday.

Organizers beefed up road safety after a Tour car hit and killed a 12-year-old fan during the race two years ago.

Wednesday's racing was uneventful, over a flat 91.14-mile course through southwest France.

Frenchman Patrice Halgand took the leg, in the third fastest time for a flat stage in Tour history - 3 hours, 15 seconds, with an average speed of 30.337 mph.

Spain's Igor Gonzalez Galdeano retained the yellow jersey worn by the race leader for a seventh consecutive day. Armstrong, the three-time defending champion, finished with the main pack 3:47 behind Halgand, and continued to trail Gonzalez Galdeano by 26 seconds in the overall standings.

Gonzalez Galdeano, who rides for Once, tested positive for the restricted substance salbutamol but was not punished. Organizers and world cycling's governing body, the UCI, said he was authorized to use the product, which is taken to treat asthma.

In the past, Armstrong has waited until the first mountain stage to take control of the Tour. Huge chunks of time can be won or lost in the mountains, where the Tour title usually is decided.

Thursday's leg, which takes riders on a tough 97.96-mile stretch through the Pyrenees, should show whether Armstrong is strong enough to win a fourth straight title.

Armstrong said that one of his main rivals in the mountains will be Spaniard Joseba Beloki, who has finished third in the Tour the last two years. He rides in Gonzalez Galdeano's Once team.

"He's a great climber," said Armstrong, who rides for the U.S. Postal Service team. "He has good experience here, he has a strong team. I think he's a bigger threat that Galdeano."

Another possible challenger is Colombia's Santiago Botero. The Kelme rider upset Armstrong to win Monday's time trial, but is notoriously inconsistent.

"A couple of years ago, he was more of a climber," Armstrong said. "Now he's more of a time-trialist."

At the Dauphine Libere race last June, Botero "was very inconsistent. He won the time trial, and the next day he lost 15 minutes. It was amazing. But if he puts it all together, he's very strong."

Other riders Armstrong needs to watch out for include Oscar Sevilla of Spain, Kazakhstan's Andrei Kivilev, and Lithuania's Raimondas Rumsas.

"Rumsas is the biggest outside threat," Armstrong said. "He's definitely a rider with a lot of potential, probably a guy who wants to prove something.

"He's very quiet. Nobody really knows him. But he's a strong guy, and one that we have to watch."

Thursday's stage starts in Pau and ends in the ski station of La Mongie.