Armstrong does his job: He stays out of trouble

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2005

LES ESSARTS, France (AP) - A master of strategy after all these rides, Lance Armstrong did what he had to: He stayed out of trouble.

Armstrong negotiated the second stage of his farewell Tour de France on Sunday, 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 a seventh straight 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.

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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 on the opening day's 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 Tuesday and Alpine mountain stages looming, Armstrong refrained from needless risks.