A day after being spat on by German fans, Lance Armstrong was in no mood to concede a stage to a German rival.
With a stunning final dash of speed, Armstrong snatched victory from German Andreas Kloden at the end of the Tour's hardest Alpine stage, pedaling so furiously that his bicycle swung wildly beneath him.
The win Thursday was Armstrong's fourth stage victory this Tour -- matching his best in previous years when he also dominated -- and his third in three consecutive days, allowing him to all but lock up a record sixth straight crown.
It also was perhaps the most incredible. Even Armstrong seemed to find his sprint finish hard to believe. A big smile on his face, he jubilantly pumped his fists as he zoomed past Kloden, who seemed destined to win until Armstrong edged him at the line.
"No gifts this year," the five-time champion said. "I want to win."
Aside from satisfaction, the victory earned Armstrong 20 bonus seconds that helped extend his already sizable overall lead on Italian Ivan Basso to 4 minutes 9 seconds. Barring disaster, that is more than enough to carry the Texan through to the finish in Paris on Sunday to become the only six-time winner of the 101-year-old cycling marathon.
"Sweet," he told teammate Floyd Landis as they hugged at the finish.
"You're the man. Nice sprint. I'm glad you got it," Landis replied.
Armstrong's original plan had been to let Landis win. But in the end, he used the actions of German fans and the chance for a 20th career individual victory as inspiration.
At the top of the last of five climbs on the 126.8-mile trek through the Alps, Armstrong reached an arm over to Landis and told him to try for what would have been his first victory. The finish was eight miles away, at the end of a long, speedy descent to Le Grand-Bornand.
"I said, 'How bad do you want to win a stage in the Tour de France?' He said, 'Real bad,' " Armstrong recounted later. "I said, 'How fast can you go downhill?' and he said, 'I go downhill real fast.' He said, 'Can I do it?' And I said, 'Sure you can do it.' Then I told him, 'Run like you stole something, Floyd.' "
Landis zoomed away but was quickly caught by German Jan Ullrich, Armstrong's primary rival. Armstrong laid chase, followed by Basso and Kloden. Together, Ullrich, Basso and Kloden had been the only riders able to stay with the two Americans on the last climb up the Col de la Croix Fry.
Hurtling toward the finish, the five riders eyed each other and jostled for position. Armstrong, distinctive in his overall leader's yellow jersey, put his sunglasses back on and took a couple of sips from his drink bottle.
Just after they passed under a blue inflatable arch marking one-half mile to go, Kloden made his move, sprinting ahead to establish a slight lead through the final turns.
Then Armstrong hit the highest of his many gears. With a final glance over his shoulder and within sight of the line, he rocketed off in pursuit and found just enough speed to beat Kloden by a whisker.
"Something came over me and I said, 'Okay, I have to go for it.' To get to win in the sprints is exciting," Armstrong said. "When I first started I thought, 'I'm not going to catch 'im.' . . . But the finish line was far enough away that I made it through."
He dedicated his win to Landis, who led his boss up the grinding final climb. Landis's pace was so punishing that none but Basso, Kloden and Ullrich -- Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in the overall standings behind Armstrong -- could follow.
"He was the man of the day," Armstrong said. "In the Tour de France, to go to the front of the climb and ride tempo and end up with five guys is very hard to do."
"I really wanted him to win the stage," he added. "But it didn't work out that way."
When they hugged at the finish, still perched on their bikes, Landis told Armstrong: "I couldn't go any more."
The 28-year-old, racing in his third Tour, finished last of the five in the sprint. Kloden was second, in the same time as Armstrong, with Ullrich third and Basso fourth, both one second back.
Kloden is 5:11 behind Armstrong overall. Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion and a five-time runner-up, is 8:08 back.