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Lance Armstrong warned the rest of the Tour de France Saturday that he was gearing up to win cycling’s biggest race for a record-equaling fifth time.
The American allowed Frenchman Richard Virenque to take Saturday’s first mountain stage at Morzine, along with the yellow jersey, but then said he was setting out to win the race, starting with Sunday’s eighth stage climb up L’Alpe d’Huez.
“For me, the Tour started today,” the U.S. Postal Service leader told reporters. “In the first week of the race you’re not riding to win, you’re just trying to stay out of trouble and not lose it. Now it’s time to try and win, which I always prefer.”
Armstrong finished 15th on the stage to Morzine, four minutes and six seconds behind winner Virenque, whom he trails by 2:37 in the overall standings.
“Tactically it was a good day for us,” Armstrong said. “Virenque has the race lead after his strong ride, and so his Quick Step team will be motivated to defend the lead in the next few days.
“I don’t know how long they can keep it for, but it’s a good thing for us. The most important thing is to know how I feel and know that the team is riding well. They were fantastic today.”
Armstrong said he was surprised that two rivals, Gilberto Simoni and Santiago Botero, lost such large amounts of time on Saturday’s stage. Simoni lost eight minutes to Armstrong and is now 74th overall, 9:23 behind the defending champion, while Botero also finished eight minutes down and is 7:47 behind the American.
“The first mountain stage always causes a few surprises, and Simoni and Botero were the big ones,” Armstrong said. “Even I was surprised to see them fade like that.”
With matters apparently under control, Armstrong was clearly looking forward to Sunday’s second Alpine stage.
“L’Alpe d’Huez will be important,” he said. “It’s a hard stage with the long climb of the Col du Galibier and then the finish at the summit of L’Alpe d’Huez.
“I’m sure there will be attacks, but I’m ready for them.”