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In a rarity, Armstrong fails to finish first in Tour time-trial


-- Lance Armstrong isn't the dominating force he used to be in Tour de France time trials.

The three-time Tour winner recorded a rare second-place finish in Monday's ninth stage, taking 11 seconds more than Colombian Santiago Botero to complete a wind-swept course through Brittany.

Armstrong's performance allowed him to move up six spots into second place overall, 26 seconds behind Spain's Igor Gonzalez Galdeano. The Spaniard finished 19 seconds behind Botero.

While the 30-year-old Texan remains the overwhelming favorite to win a fourth consecutive Tour, his rivals see the second-place finish as a dent in the Armstrong armor.

''The Tour has changed -- Armstrong isn't as strong in the time trial as he was a year ago,'' said Gonzalez Galdeano, who finished fourth in the stage to retain the overall leader's yellow jersey. ''The race has become more open.''

Here's a measure of Armstrong's dominance in individual time trials: Since his first Tour victory in 1999, he had won seven of the last nine coming into Monday's stage. Not counting two quick prologues, he was seven for seven.

''The Tour isn't monotone after all,'' Armstrong said. ''It's not like everybody had said it was -- there are other riders out there.''

Monday's stage marked the end of a flat, speedy first week full of crashes. The race now heads to the mountains, one of Armstrong's other strengths.

Armstrong dominated in the mountains last year, winning the Tour with a final advantage of more than 6 1/2 minutes.

Tuesday is a rest day, when the riders fly down to southwestern France. The race resumes Wednesday with a 91.1-mile trek from Bazas to Pau. The Tour enters the Pyrenees on Thursday, for the first of six mountain stages this year.

''We'll now see if he's as unbeatable as he once was in the mountains,'' Gonzalez Galdeano said.

Botero, of the Kelme team, clocked a time of 1 hour, 2 minutes and 18 seconds for the 32.24-mile loop through Brittany from Lanester to Lorient. It was the 29-year-old's second stage victory.

''Botero's no surprise winner,'' Armstrong said. His comments were relayed through Jogi Muller, spokesman for his U.S. Postal Service team.

The Colombian topped Armstrong by 42 seconds in a 25.4-mile time trial stage in the Dauphine Libere in June, although the Texan won the week-long race.

Another individual time trial is scheduled on July 27, a day before the Tour enters Paris for the finish.

Botero's victory was the first time a rider from Colombia, known for producing strong climbers, won a flat stage in the Tour. He also could be a threat in the mountain stages. In 2000, he took home the polka-dot jersey awarded to the Tour's best climber.

''I'm looking forward to the first stage in the Pyrenees,'' Botero said. ''You can expect just about anything.''

For Monday's time trial, some riders faced rough winds, while others suffered punctured tires.

French rider Laurent Jalabert, of the CSC Tiscali team, blew a tire and lost at least 25 seconds as a technician first tried to change the tire, then replaced the bike altogether. He finished about 3 1/2 minutes after Botero and trails Gonzalez Galdeano by more than 4 minutes.

American Levi Leipheimer, who rides for Dutch team Rabobank, said winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean were tough. He entered Monday's stage in 41st place but climbed to 19th after the time trial -- despite losing ground on the leader.

''It was tough, long and windy. Normally the time trial is good for me,'' Leipheimer said, clearly disappointed that he lost more than two minutes on Gonzalez Galdeano. ''I did my best, but I lost time.'' The Associated Press