Fedrigo wins first stage of 2-day race

COL DE L'OSPEDALE, Corsica -- Lance Armstrong had a "really, really bad" day and finished behind Alberto Contador in the first stage of the Criterium International on Saturday.

France's Pierrick Fedrigo beat everybody as the weekend race began with a 109-mile ride from Porto Vecchio to an uphill finish at the Col de l'Ospedale in southern Corsica.

Contador, the two-time and reigning Tour de France champion, finished 1 minute, 21 seconds back, while Armstrong was 5:01 off Fedrigo's pace.

The two-day, three-stage event is the first time Armstrong and Contador have raced each other since the Tour last summer, and as such has generated "a lot of hype," Armstrong said.

The 38-year-old Texan said he wasn't expecting to be in top form at the Criterium. As was often the case during his record run of seven Tour titles, he is focusing his energies on cycling's biggest prize.

"In the beginning, I thought I was either really, really good or really, really bad, and it was the latter," said Armstrong, who was 50th. "I didn't have the best day, and I didn't expect anything different."

Armstrong sped to the front about 5 miles from the finish, but was dropped by the leaders about 2½ miles later.

He said he was suffering from lingering effects of a stomach bug, and didn't expect to be near top condition until the Tour of California in late May.

"There are a couple of things at play here. ... I don't have that many race days under my belt like a lot of other guys -- and we're in March," Armstrong said. "If we were having this discussion in July [during the Tour de France] I'd have to answer, 'Yeah I'm disappointed.'"

Among the standouts were world champion and two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia, Michael Rogers of Australia and Chris Horner of the United States -- all 25 seconds behind Fedrigo's winning time of 5 hours, 19 minutes, 35 seconds.

Portuguese rider Tiago Machado of RadioShack 15 seconds back in second, and Spain's Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel 21 behind in third.

Contador, who said he believes Evans is the favorite, dropped from the lead pack with about a mile to go. He said his allergies were acting up near the wind-swept finish.

"Nobody is unbeatable, we can't always win," Contador said, adding that he was happy to conserve energy on the final climb for the time trial that closes the race Sunday.

Contador came in among the favorites aftering wining both of his previous races this year -- the Tour of Algarve in February and the Paris-Nice earlier this month.

Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's longtime coach and manager of the RadioShack team, said "neither Lance nor Alberto had a great day" -- and echoed Contador's belief that Evans was the favorite.

Bruyneel acknowledged "there's work to do" to get Armstrong in shape for the Tour in July, but "if there's one thing I don't doubt about him, it's his motivation -- certainly not."

A 47-mile mostly flat ride Sunday morning precedes the 4.8-mile time trial finale.