Armstrong gears up for action

SPANISH FLY: Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha of the IBanesto team wins the 153.5km eleventh stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Narbonne and Toulouse. Lance Armstrong of the US retained the overall race leader's yellow jersey. - Reuterspic

TOULOUSE: Lance Armstrong warmed up for the critical individual time trial yesterday with a solid 29th place in the 153.5km 11th stage of the Tour de France from Narbonne to Toulouse. 

While the American, bidding for a record-equalling fifth Tour victory, and his main rivals geared up for today's 47km timed test between Gaillac and the Cap Decouverte theme park, Argentine-born Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha stole the limelight. 

The rider surged 13km from the finish to part company with seven other breakaways. 

Armstrong, who finished 42 seconds behind Flecha, received the 50th yellow jersey of his career from Hollywood movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Often seen as the terminator of the peloton, Armstrong has not been as devastating this year and will have to be at his very best today to widen the gap on his rivals, particularly Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov who is only 21 seconds behind. 

“It's a big day for me and for the race,” said Armstrong of the time trial. “It may well be the most important time trial in the last five Tours because the race is so tight. I know the course well and I like it. We'll see how it goes.” 

The time trial course is reasonably bumpy, but heat, which has been suffocating since the prologue, could prove to be a decisive factor. 

“It's not extremely hard, but it wil depend on the wind and the heat. It's not as long as last year, but it's a nice course,” added the American who spent the Wednesday rest day with his family. 

Flecha, whose girlfriend lives in Toulouse, was obviously impatient to meet her. 

While his seven breakaway companions waited, he made his move, never to be seen again before the finish where he made an archers gesture to mimic his name, which means arrow. 

“My girlfriend is from Toulouse. She'll be out of her mind and I hope I don't find she jumped in (Toulouse's) canal out of joy,” he said. 

The 25-year-old Spaniard had only four minor wins under his belt and is competing in his first Tour de France. 

“It's unbelievable. It's my first win for and I want to dedicate it to the team,” he said. 

Dutchman Bram de Groot was second, four seconds behind, and Spain's Isidro Nozal was third in the same time. – Reuters  

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