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Saturday, July 3, 1999 Published at 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK

Armstrong's glorious return

The American pulls on yellow ready for the 4th of July stage

Former cancer sufferer Lance Armstrong has taken the first yellow jersey of this year's Tour de France after winning the prologue time trial at Le Puy de Fou.

Le Tour de France
The American returned from the killer disease to compete at the highest level of one of the world's most demanding sports.

Britain's Chris Boardman, winner of this stage in three of the last five Tours, was fifth.

Simon Brotherton on a good news story for the Tour
Alex Zulle - one of the former Festina riders who served a seven-month ban for drug abuse after last year's Tour - was seven seconds adrift of Armstrong in second.

Spain's world time trial champion Abraham Olano of ONCE posted the third-fastest time - 11 seconds off the 27-year-old Texan's time of 8min 02.56secs over the 6.8km course.

[ image: Zulle shows the strain on his way to second]
Zulle shows the strain on his way to second
"This feeling is incredible," said the leader of the US Postal team. "With my problems, my history, it is incredible."

He added: "It's a huge achievement after all I've been through and tremendously important for me and the team as its the first time for me and the team to have the yellow jersey."


The 1993 world road champion is the first American since three-times winner Greg LeMond in 1990 to hold the famous garment.

Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 - and told he had a 50% chance of surviving since the disease had spread to his brain.

After a year out of the sport he returned to finish fourth in two world championship races and the Tour of Spain in 1998.

This is his first Tour de France since 1996.

[ image: Early leader Verbrugghe was beaten by the later men]
Early leader Verbrugghe was beaten by the later men
Early starter Rik Verbrugghe of Belgium and Lotto held the lead for much of the afternoon before the leaders went out towards the end of the traditional Tour opener.

France's Christophe Moreau of Festina took the lead seconds after last man Bobby Julich had set off on his ride.

Zulle beat that time by eight seconds but Boardman could not beat Moreau, let alone Zulle.

And the Swiss was then stunned by Armstrong, whose time could not be beaten by remaining riders Olano and Bobby Julich of the US.

Of the other favourites for the whole event Dutchman Michael Boogerd of Rabobank lost almost a minute.

But most of the top men were within seconds of the winning time as they tested their form.

Virenque cheered and jeered

Controversial former Festina team leader Richard Virenque - reinstated in the race on appeal - was 51 seconds off the pace.

[ image: The race is being closely policed this year]
The race is being closely policed this year
He was greeted with cheers although a minority jeered and whistled the Frenchman.

Thankfully for the organisers all 180 riders passed the compulsory medical checks introduced after last year's disastrous race.

There was a brief scare when rumours surfaced of two riders having exceeded the authorised red blood cell count of 50% but they proved unfounded.

It was reported that one unknown rider had to undergo a second check before being given the all-clear to compete.

Stage result and general classification

[ image:  ]

  • 1. Lance Armstrong (US) US Postal 8 mins 2 secs
  • 2. Alex Zulle (Switzerland) Banesto @ 7 secs
  • 3. Abraham Olano (Spain) ONCE @ 11
  • 4. Christophe Moreau (France) Festina @ 15
  • 5. Chris Boardman (Britain) Credit Agricole @ 16
  • 6. Rik Verbrugghe (Belgium) Lotto @ 18
  • 7. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Casino @ 21
  • 8. Santos Gonzalez (Spain) ONCE @ 21
  • 9. Laurent Brochard (France) Festina @ 21
  • 10. Gilles Maignan (France) Casino @ 23
  • 11. Andrea Peron (Italy) ONCE @ 23
  • 12. Laurent Dufaux (Switzerland) Saeco @ 23
  • 13. Steffen Wesemann (Germany) Telekom @ 24
  • 14. Christian Vandevelde (U.S.) U.S. Postal @ 25
  • 15. George Hincapie (U.S.) U.S. Postal @ 26
  • 16. Stuart O'Grady (Australia) Credit Agricole @ 26
  • 17. Angel Casero (Spain) Vitalicio Seguros @ 26
  • 18. Tyler Hamilton (U.S.) U.S. Postal @ 27
  • 19. Jon Vaughters (U.S.) U.S. Postal @ 27
  • 20. Pavel Tonkov (Russia) Mapei @ 28

Next stage

[ image:  ]

Sunday's racing sees the riders on a flat stage from Montaigu to Challans in the Vendee region of France.

This is a flat stage, and despite breakaway groups early in the day, the race is likely to come down to a bunch sprint.

A bonus of 20 seconds is available to the winner, and Armstrong's lead could be short-lived.

"We're here to ride for three weeks," said the American, confirming that his team would not use up energy defending the early lead.

His team-mate George Hincapie is a candidate for the lead, as is Credit Agricole's Australian Stuart O'Grady.

The pair battled for the time bonuses at this stage last year, with O'Grady coming out on top.

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