July 22, 2005

Relieved Tour riders tackle short stage

MENDE, France (Reuters) - Relieved riders on the Tour de
France will be tackling the relatively short 19th stage from
Issoire to Le Puy en Velay over 153.5km Friday.

Exhausted by almost three weeks of racing and facing a
demanding time trial over 55.5 km in St Etienne Saturday, many
of the riders left in the race, including leader Lance
Armstrong, will be hoping for a lull.

But Friday's stage, the shortest aside from the time
trials, could yet see more attacks and breakaways as it
features five climbs, including the steep second-category Col
des Pradeaux at halfway mark.

Armstrong will be wearing his 80th yellow jersey to Le Puy,
a town only visited twice before by the Tour.

The race last finished in the central French town in 1996,
when Switzerland's Pascal Richard took the stage victory, less
than a month before he became Olympic champion in Atlanta.

Armstrong, who was soon to learn that he was suffering from
cancer, had already abandoned the Tour by the time it reached
Le Puy that year.

The leading riders will hope for an easy time on the slopes
of the Massif Central, saving their strength for Saturday's
time trial which should decide the final positions in the
overall standings.