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Sunday, July 11, 2004
Updated: July 12, 1:09 PM ET
Voeckler keeps overall lead

Associated Press

QUIMPER, France -- Lance Armstrong knows exactly where his biggest rival stands in the Tour de France.

While Jan Ullrich went largely unnoticed in the crash-marred first week, Armstrong has been paying close attention to the German and figures he'll be a factor in the mountain stages.

Thor Hushovd
Norway's Thor Hushovd had the yellow jersey earlier in the Tour, but has his sights set on a different color.

"That's OK to be quiet so far," Armstrong told The Associated Press on Sunday. "He's been safe, conservative and out of the way."

Still, doubts about Ullrich remain.

"Where's Ullrich?" read a headline Sunday in the French sports newspaper L'Equipe, speculating that a cold he had in the week before the race could have hurt him.

But his team insists all is well, and Armstrong rejected suggestions that the 30-year-old German has lost his drive after five second-place finishes -- one off the record in the event.

"He's hungry," Armstrong said after he and other riders arrived by plane Sunday in Limoges.

After a rest day Monday, the race heads for three days into the Massif Central, a mountainous, agricultural plateau offering an indication of how riders will fare in tougher climbs through the Pyrenees and Alps later in the three-week event.

"We'll start to see the start of the real race," said Armstrong, seeking his record sixth straight title.

Norway's Thor Hushovd, the winner Sunday in a hilly but fast stage through Brittany in western France, and other speedsters will give way in the mountains to more nimble climbers and all-arounders such as Ullrich and Armstrong.

French champion Thomas Voeckler retained the overall leader's yellow jersey, with Armstrong sixth -- 9 minutes, 35 seconds behind. Ullrich was 20th -- 55 seconds behind the American.

More than half of the 188 riders who started the race July 3 have been involved in crashes -- the latest Sunday in the 104.4-mile stage from Lamballe to Quimper in Brittany.

A dog scampering into the pack of riders near the end felled French rider Samuel Dumoulin, who was nearly 11 minutes behind Hushovd's winning time of 3 hours, 54 minutes, 22 seconds.

The crashes are largely due to rain that slickened roads, early nerves and the high speeds of sprints at the end of almost every stage last week. Teams looking to shepherd their leaders toward the front of the pack, out of trouble, fueled jitters by boxing for position.

Armstrong and other top riders, including American Tyler Hamilton and Italy's Ivan Basso, are likely to make moves to wrest the yellow jersey from Voeckler before the race finishes in Paris on July 25.

Ullrich said he was looking forward to having Monday off to do "some unwinding."

Armstrong was largely content to have made it through the harrowing first week intact -- fearful that a crash could end his hopes for another title.

"It's been a crazy first week," he said. "I don't ever remember doing one like that."