Awaiting the arduous mountain climbs of the Pyrenees, Lance Armstrong again conserved strength today and remained in command of the Tour de France.
On a day when Russia's Dimitri Konyshev captured the 14th stage of cycling's most famous race, Armstrong stuck to a strategy that has served him well.
For four straight days, Armstrong, 27, has sat back, keeping a close eye on his main rivals while lesser names have broken away to win the stages.
The riders chasing Armstrong have adopted the same tactics, with the same aim: saving energy leading to potentially decisive stages Tuesday and Wednesday high in the Pyrenees on the French-Spanish border.
In the mountains, the leaders will have to attack Armstrong, or hope he cracks.
"We need Armstrong to have a bad day, and that's not out of the question on the Tour," said Spain's Abraham Olano, in second place, before today's race.
Armstrong, making a triumphant recovery from testicular cancer, is riding for U.S. Postal Service and leads by 7 minutes 44 seconds.
"The morale of the Americans is high," Olano said. "They work very well together by controlling the breakaways. Armstrong's surrounded by his teammates, and, moreover, is showing no signs of weakness."
Today's race followed the same pattern as the previous three days, with an early breakaway by a handful of riders who barely figure in the top 50.
Konyshev, who rides for Mercatone, was followed by two Italians--Gianni Faresin of the Mapei team and Massimilliano Lelli of Cofidis.
The results did not affect the top overall standings. Armstrong finished 60th and Olano 27th. But since a large pack crossed the line in formation, the riders finished with the same time.
The 124-mile stage between Castres and Saint-Gaudens was the final day of relatively flat racing before the Pyrenees. Monday is a rest day.
"I knew this was my last chance for a victory, since from now on it's climbing and then sprints," Konyshev said.
With Italians finishing second and third, this was another excellent day for Italy. On Saturday, Italians took the top three positions, with Salvatore Commesso winning the stage.
Monday is the second rest day of the race. Riders are to train briefly to maintain their rhythm, relax with massages and plot strategies for the hills.
CAPTION: American Lance Armstrong pedals through a field of sunflowers in southern France as he negotiates the 14th stage of the Tour de France.