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Suddenly, the Heat Is On

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lance Armstrong just wanted to stay out of trouble on a scorching day one rider felt was better suited for baking bread.

British sprinter Mark Cavendish won the second stage of the Tour de France yesterday in Brignoles, France, with Armstrong finishing safely in the pack and Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland keeping the leader's yellow jersey. Cancellara captured the opening time trial a day earlier.

Cancellara has an 18-second lead over 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador of Spain. Bradley Wiggins of Britain is third, 19 seconds behind. Armstrong, the seven-time champion, is 10th, 40 seconds back.

Tyler Farrar of the United States finished second and Romain Feillu of France was third in the 116-mile route from Monaco to Brignoles.

Armstrong is making a comeback to the Tour four years after retiring. The 37-year-old Texan said his strategy for this leg was "just avoid trouble and get in the rhythm of the race."

The Tour rolls across the rim of the Mediterranean for mostly flat stages the next few days, with a challenging team time trial tomorrow. Three days in the demanding Pyrenees start in Stage 7.

"Yesterday was not really a normal stage," Armstrong said as he headed toward his Astana team bus. "These start to be the more normal stages."

The heat, however, was anything but normal.

"St(age) 2 done. Hot, hot, hot," Armstrong tweeted later. "Up/down/left/right but pretty uneventful," he wrote, before hailing a big fan turnout on the roadsides and congratulating Cavendish.

Many riders groaned about the weather.

"The heat was like you were baking bread. . . . It was terrible," Cancellara said on French TV. He recounted how with about an hour left of riding his team manager said the temperature hit 104 degrees. "I haven't seen heat like that in years."

Cavendish had little trouble with the conditions. The 24-year-old rider, who is from the rarely hot Isle of Man, won three stages in the Giro d'Italia in May and is proving to be among the world's top sprinters.

He burst from the main pack behind a textbook escort by his Columbia teammates, then took over alone to finish a split second in front.

"I'm glad I could win to just pay them back," Cavendish said, who finished in 4 hours 30 minutes 2 minutes -- the same time as all but two of the riders. "It's emotional for me."

-- From News Services

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