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  Friday, 27 July, 2001, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Armstrong times it to perfection
Lance Armstrong rides past a sunflower field in the time-trial
Armstrong was in crushing form in the time-trial
Lance Armstrong put the seal on what now seems certain to be his third consecutive Tour de France crown with a stunning performance in Friday's final time-trial.

The American annihilated closest rival Jan Ullrich in an event in which the German had been predicted to be able to cut at least some time out of the American's lead.

Instead, Armstrong was 34 seconds ahead of Ullrich at the first intermediate timing mark, a gap he had extended to more than a minute at the second split.

He won the 61km stage between Montlucon and Saint-Amand-Montrond by one minute and 24 seconds from Spaniard Gonzalez Galdeano; his advantage over Ullrich was 1:39.


It was a beautiful stage - I loved every minute of it
Lance Armstrong

Armstrong said: "I started off the stage with an even effort - I wanted to ride into it.

"At the first split I saw I was 20 or 30 seconds up on Ullrich and at that point I knew it was going to be a good day.

"It was a beautiful stage - I loved every minute of it."

"I never felt so good in a time trial," he added.

He revealed that at one point he even had to brake as the motorbike riders in front of him tried to avoid spectators on the road.

"At one point, I did have to get on the brakes a little, but the bikes can only go as fast as the people get out of the way," he said.

"That's one of the good things about having a good lead; you can afford things like that."

Change for third place

Armstrong's lead going into the final two stages before the finish on the Champs Elysées in Paris on Sunday is now 6:44.

Barring an accident, therefore, the US Postal star is now unassailable, and his entry into the pantheon of all-time greats who have won three consecutive Tours assured.

Ullrich, who won the event in 1997 while Armstrong was battling testicular cancer, strengthened his hold on second place.

But the Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev lost third place to Spain's Joseba Beloki.

If the top three remains the same over the last two stages, the podium in Paris will be a repeat of last year.

The win was a second display of crushing dominance by Armstrong in a time-trial in this year's Tour.

Last Wednesday, the 29-year-old Texan took a minute out of Ullrich on the gruelling climb from Grenoble to Chamrousse.

Kelme held off ONCE

Despite a fine showing from ONCE riders such as Beloki and Gonzalez Galdeano, Kelme held onto their lead in the team competition.

The leaders' advantage of nine minutes was cut to less than four but Kelme now look set to repeat their win of 12 months ago, and guarantee a place in Tour 2002.

All that could stop them would be an successful attack containing ONCE riders and not Kelme winning one of the remaining stages.

That is almost certain not to happen on Sunday's final ride into Paris, but is possible on Saturday.

The weekend will also see Erik Zabel and Stuart O'Grady resume their battle for the green jersey.

Aussie O'Grady leads Zabel by 11 points, an advantage that could be wiped out by a single stage win for the German, such as his triumph on the final Saturday last year.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Simon Brotherton
"Paris is just over the horizon"
Race leader Lance Armstrong
"We do the maximum for this race"
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