Originally created 07/03/05

Armstrong pedals to fast start



NOIRMOUTIER-EN-L'ILE, France - Lance Armstrong had an impressive start to his final Tour de France, finishing second Saturday in the opening stage.

Armstrong, bidding for his seventh consecutive Tour victory before he retires, was 2 seconds behind fellow American David Zabriskie on the 11.8-mile course in Western France. The 25-year-old Zabriskie posted the fastest time trial in Tour history, clocking 20 minutes, 51 seconds, to take the yellow jersey as overall leader.

Though Armstrong didn't win, he opened up important time gaps over his major rivals - including 1997 winner Jan Ullrich.

The 33-year-old Armstrong overtook Ullrich even though the German started one minute ahead of him.

"It's incredible what he has done today," said Armstrong's team coach, Johan Bruyneel.

Bruyneel wasn't the only one in such a jubilant mood. Armstrong's rock star girlfriend, Sheryl Crow, snapped photos to capture the moment.

"I started slowly but I found my rhythm," said Armstrong, who had a slight mishap at the start when one of his feet popped out of the pedals.

Ullrich placed 12th, 1:06 slower than Armstrong, and might have been affected by a crash in training Friday, when he slammed into the back of one of his team's cars and cut his neck. Alexandre Vinokourov, Ullrich's teammate and another top contender to unseat Armstrong, placed third, 51 seconds back.

"The feeling of being passed by Lance is not good," Ullrich said. "The Tour is still three weeks long. I'll battle."

Zabriskie surprised them all with his remarkable performance, riding at an average of 33.98 miles an hour, besting the time-trial record set by Greg Lemond in 1989.

At a glance

Opening stage: An 11.8-mile time trial from Fromentine to Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile on the Atlantic coast. A flat route with few turns favoring stronger riders able to maintain consistent speeds.

Winner: David Zabriskie, United States, Team CSC, 20 minutes, 51 seconds.

Yellow Jersey: Zabriskie.

Quote of the Day: "Johan (Bruyneel) told me on the radio I was catching Ullrich. You can't lie. That's a good feeling" - Armstrong

Next Stage: Today's stage favors sprinters over 112.5 miles from Challans to Les Essarts.

- Associated Press