CARCASSONNE, France --If Lance Armstrong drops in on the Tour de France as expected next week, he'll have something to celebrate.
His Discovery Channel squad, struggling at its first Tour without the seven-time champion, had its first stage winner Friday, in young Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych. U.S. rider Floyd Landis kept the overall lead.
The now-retired Armstrong, a part-owner of the Discovery squad, is expected at the race Tuesday or Wednesday, said team spokesman P.J. Rabice. Given the struggles they have faced, his ex-teammates could probably do with his advice and help.
Discovery came to the Tour with several riders touted as possible contenders to pick up where Armstrong left off.
George Hincapie, who rode with the Texan on all seven of his wins, got the team off to a quick start
by placing second in the opening
short time trial and by taking the overall race lead the next day.
But it was all downhill from there. Discovery flunked the first big test of the Tour, failing to place any riders in the top 15 in the first long time trial last weekend.
And hopes of a rebound seemed all but dashed when Hincapie and other Discovery riders melted on the hardest day in the Pyrenees on Thursday.
What a difference a day makes.
Popovych's stylish win Friday could not have come at a better time, especially considering Discovery lost two riders who dropped out of the Tour with injuries earlier in the day.