The United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team’s Lance Armstrong delivered the team’s fifth victory of the season today in Saint-Chamond, France, by taking the third stage of the Dauphine Libere stage race. Armstrong, second in Sunday’s prologue and in second place overall entering today’s 35.7 kilometer race, turned in a time of 46 minutes and 56 seconds, good enough to win the stage and take over the race lead by 28 seconds over Euskaltel’s Haimar Zubeldia. Armstrong’s USPS teammate, Tyler Hamilton, eighth overall entering today’s race, placed third in the stage, 32 seconds behind Armstrong, and now holds the third overall position as well, 45 seconds back.
Historically, the Dauphine Libere has been considered one of the key preparatory races for the Tour de France. Last year, prior to winning the Tour de France, Armstrong placed eighth overall at the Dauphine while playing a key support role for then-teammate Jonathan Vaughters, who led the race for several days before eventually finishing second. Hamilton, 13th overall at the Tour, finished 15th at the Dauphine.
“Before the Dauphine, the objective for Lance was to test himself once or maybe twice and today’s time trial was one of those days,” said Johan Bruyneel, the USPS’ director sportif. “For the overall, we were going to count on Tyler. We will see now in the next days how much effort it costs the team to defend the (lead) jersey. If it does not cost too much energy and you can win the Dauphine, then you go for the win.”
“Today I felt pretty good,” Hamilton said. “My form has been improving lately and I went in with lots of confidence. The only question mark for me was that I had not raced a time trial since back in March. Lance and I rode the course in the morning and that definitely helped our confidence.”
“I expected both of them to be up there,” Bruyneel added about Armstrong and Hamilton. “We are following the same schedule as last year and I think both Lance and Tyler are better now than last year. You can always back off a little bit, which is better than trying to hurry back into form.”
Tomorrow’s fourth stage begins in Romans-sur-Isere and travels 159 kms to the top of the infamous Mount Ventoux. The same climb up Ventoux will be featured in the 12th stage of the Tour de France next month.
“I was hoping to be stronger at this point of the season,” Hamilton said. “I had a good last week or racing, at the Classique des Alpes (ninth overall) and I had a decent prologue here (eighth), so I have been showing some improvement on my results this Spring. The plan was to come on strong in June and even stronger in July. Lance is on great form right now and I think it’s possible for him to win tomorrow. If needed, I am ready to sacrifice myself for Lance if something dangerous happens in the race.”
“With Ventoux tomorrow, we will see how it goes,” Bruyneel added. “We will try and control the race if it does not explode the team. It is a very hard climb and I think that we are good enough to be up there. Once you are on the Ventoux, it will be everybody for themselves. However, I don’t believe there are 10 other riders who can give us trouble, maybe one or two. We can be confident.”
Following tomorrow’s key mountain stage, the Dauphine Libere continues through the weekend with stages that include several other climbs featured in the Tour de France, which begins on July 1. The Dauphine concludes on Sunday in Sallanches.
STAGE THREE, DAUPHINE LIBERE
1. Lance Armstrong, USPS; 35.7 kms in 46:56
2. Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel; at :21
3. Tyler Hamilton, USPS; at :32
4. Joseba Beloki, Festina; at :58
5. David Millar, Cofidis; at 1:00
31. Viatcheslav Ekimov, USPS; at 3:52
65. Cedric Vasseur, USPS; at 5:17
81. Kevin Livingston, USPS; at 6:28
86. Stive Vermaut, USPS; at 6:43
93. Patrick Jonker, USPS; at 7:10
95. Jamie Burrow, USPS; at 7:18
GC AFTER 3 STAGES, DAUPHINE LIBERE
1. Armstrong; 10:35:14
2. Zubeldia; at :28
3. Hamilton; at :45
4. Beloki; at 1:15
5. Millar; at 1:25
60. Vasseur; at 7:12
68. Burrow; at 9:33
71. Jonker; at 10:43
74. Ekimov; at 13:29
80. Vermaut; at 16:23
90. Livingston; at 20:13