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Tour de France: Armstrong sits tight in second
Updated: 2005-07-04 15:07

A master of strategy after all these rides, Lance Armstrong did what he had to: He stayed out of trouble.

Lance Armstrong plays it safe in second stage. [AP]

Armstrong negotiated the second stage of his farewell Tour de France yesterday, finishing safely in the pack and in 63rd place. Crucially, he avoided danger by steering clear of sprinters jostling for position on a day when several fell, and Belgium's Tom Boonen was the winner.

Armstrong, bidding for his seventh consecutive Tour de France title, had no intention of trying to win the 112.5-mile run from Challans to Les Essarts, raced in the sunshine in the Vendee region of western France -- once a stronghold of royalist supporters during the French Revolution more than two centuries ago.

Two years ago, Armstrong was part of a 35-man pileup on a similarly flat stage early in the Tour and was lucky to get away with scratches and bruises.

"These finishes still scare me. I won't miss them," said Armstrong, who is set to retire after the race.

"Everybody's a bit nervous, everybody's cracking a little bit."

Boonen won in just under four hours, beating Norway's Thor Hushovd and Australia's Robbie McEwen in a hair-raising dash to the line.

Armstrong took a major step Saturday, eclipsing Jan Ullrich and other main rivals with an outstanding ride in the opening-day time trial. The Texan is in second place overall and two seconds behind fellow U.S. rider David Zabriskie of Team CSC, who had the yellow jersey for a second day.

With a key team time trial tomorrow and Alpine mountain stages looming, Armstrong refrained from needless risks. He has most of the 2,242 miles, Alps and Pyrenees ahead.

In those mountains, fans line the climbs and stand perilously close to riders. A sudden loss of concentration can lead to a nasty fall -- like the one Armstrong had in the Pyrenees in 2003 when he caught a spectator's bag and fell.

Flanked by his protective Discovery Channel teammates, Armstrong managed to take in some scenery yesterday.

Riders rolled side by side past the wide-open fields, where cows grazed lazily and the occasional American flag waved.

Before the start of the stage, hundreds of fans mingled outside his team bus. As they waited, his girlfriend, rock star Sheryl Crow, chatted and signed autographs.

Armstrong thanked his teammates for keeping him out of danger on a day when 10 riders fell.

"My legs were terrible," Armstrong joked. "Actually, I feel pretty good. I figure the faster I pedal, the faster I can retire."

Boonen won the stage in 3 hours, 51 minutes, 31 seconds while Hushovd finished in the same time.

So did McEwen and Stuart O'Grady, Australians who finished third and fourth.

The third stage today is a flat, 131.8-mile course from La Chataigneraie to Tours and again favors sprinters, meaning Armstrong again will try to avoid trouble.

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