Originally created 05/24/04

Armstrong wins final stage in tuneup race



SETE, France -- Lance Armstrong won the final stage of the Languedoc-Roussillon cycling race Sunday, picking up the pace in his preparations for a July attempt at a sixth straight Tour de France title.

The Texan finished in sixth place in the five-day event, finishing 1 minute, 44 seconds behind winner Christophe Moreau of France.

"I've had some ups and downs this week," Armstrong said. "I felt good the first two days, the next two ... not so good. Even at the start of today, I didn't feel very well."

Viatcheslav Ekimov, Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teammate, was second overall, with Spain's Iker Flores third.

Armstrong attacked on the final climb, an ascent of three-quarters of a mile up Mount Saint-Clair. About 600 yards from the finish, Armstrong powered ahead with a trademark burst.

"The start of the stage was hard, with a climb straight away," he said. "There were a lot of attacks from riders. Everyone was going for it. I started to feel better toward the end. Maybe I have more endurance than in the past."

He won the 125-mile stage from Florac to Sete in 4 hours, 42 minutes, 8 seconds. France's Laurent Brochard and Spain's Egoi Martinez were 19 seconds behind.

About 25 miles into the stage, Armstrong pulled beside Moreau to congratulate him for winning Saturday's stage.

"I asked Armstrong if he was feeling good," Moreau said. "He said 'Oh, no, no, I'm not good at all."'

That hardly seemed the case when Armstrong crushed the chasing pack, beginning with his burst eight miles from the finish.

"It's less than two weeks since I got (to Europe)," he said. "When I arrived, I immediately started to work hard in the Alps. Over the last 11 days, I've been training really hard."

Armstrong is reluctant to compare his form to last year's.

"It's hard to say because last year I didn't race in May. ... But I'm close to the physical shape I should be in. I'm at the level I should be at this stage," he said.

He intends to rest before next month's Dauphine Libere. Last year, he fell during that race and subsequent difficulties made for a rough Tour de France.

Asked if he will join rock star girlfriend Sheryl Crow in Cannes, where she was spotted at the film festival Saturday, Armstrong said: "Will I go to Cannes? No, no. She will come here."