Along the roads of the Tour de France this year, fans chant for their favorite French, German and Swiss riders. Now they're shouting another name, too: "Armstrong!"
Lance Armstrong won a crucial time trial today to regain the overall lead of the Tour de France. He led at every checkpoint and called his performance "one of the greatest victories of my life."
The 27-year-old Texan has a lot of admirers these days. Many see his comeback from testicular cancer to the very top of cycling as nothing short of amazing.
Wearing the red-white-and-blue jersey of the U.S. Postal Service team, Armstrong powered through the 34-mile course in 1 hour 8 minutes 36 seconds, riding at an average speed of nearly 30 mph. Now Armstrong, once so ill almost everyone assumed his career was over, is a clear favorite as cycling's biggest race hits the Alps this week.
Another American did not fare so well in today's eighth stage. Bobby Julich, third overall last year, fell on a steep descent and is out of the race. Julich, who rides for the French team Cofidis, was taken to a hospital with bruised ribs.
The 27-year-old rider from Glenwood Springs, Colo., fell at the 19-mile mark on a descent where speeds reach 46 mph. He was in 20th place overall going into the stage. Another American, Tyler Hamilton, came in fifth.
Finishing second in the stage was Alex Zulle of Switzerland, 58 seconds behind. He was followed by France's Christophe Moreau, 2:05 behind. The world time trial champion, Abraham Olano of Spain, was fourth, 2:22 behind.
Overall, Moreau is second, followed by Olano and Australia's Stuart O'Grady. Spain's Alvaro Gonzalez Galdeano is fifth. Estonia's Jaan Kirsipuu had been the overall leader but dropped to 11th.
"Lance knew this was the day the Tour really began for him," said Dan Osipow, U.S. Postal operations manager. "He's been waiting for this day for quite a while."
Indeed, Armstrong took great care to learn the course, coming to Metz on a rainy day in April to try it out. He was considered a favorite for the time trial since winning the race prologue, and wore the yellow jersey for two days before losing it to Kirsipuu.
The riders have a rest day Monday. Then they head to the mountains, where, as Armstrong says, "Anything can happen."
CAPTION: American Lance Armstrong, 27, averaged nearly 30 mph over 34 miles to win the eighth stage time trial and reclaim the leader's yellow jersey.