Lance signs off in perfect style

Lance Armstrong wins the final time trial at the Tour de France, beating Jan Ullrich by 23 seconds,

Lance Armstrong wins the final time trial at the Tour de France, beating Jan Ullrich by 23 seconds,

PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM

It never seemed likely that Lance Armstrong would go through a race where he has always appeared a level or two above his rivals without winning a stage, and on his penultimate day in the yellow jersey the Discovery Channel team leader corrected that anomaly with a 23-second victory over Jan Ullrich. This pair were a class above everyone else in the 55km time trial around St Etienne, with Ullrich's T-Mobile team-mate Alexandre Vinokourov third at 1-17.

Apart from the first time check at 17km when Ivan Basso led Armstrong by seven seconds and Ullrich by 17, the American led at all of the intermediate points and looked totally comfortable apart from what appeared to be a nagging problem around his left thigh with a slightly ill-fitting skinsuit.

Ullrich's consolation for his 12th beating by Armstrong in a Tour time trial was to move up to third place overall for what should now be his seventh appearance on the Tour podium. The German went into the stage 2-12 down on third-placed Michael Rasmussen, and it was always likely he would easily overturn that deficit. But there was never any doubt that third place overall would go to the T-Mobile leader after Rasmussen slid off going around a roundabout very early in his ride and then suffered a catalogue of mechanical problems.

The Dane changed bikes a couple of times at least and ended up losing more than seven minutes to Ullrich in finishing 77th on the day. That catastrophic result saw him plummet from third to seventh overall. However, it should not take away from a great all-round performance by Rasmussen, who had the mountains jersey wrapped up in the Alps and finished in a position well above what anyone would have predicted.

Basso's early speed may have penalised him on the second half of the course when he fell back to finish fifth on the day, just behind team-mate Bobby Julich. But the Italian lost a minute less to Armstrong than he did last year in the final TT over a course of exactly the same distance. Following his aggressive performance in the mountains, the Italian has moved himself to head of the pecking order as successor to Armstrong at next year's Tour.

There were good performances too from Cadel Evans, who finished seventh at 2-06, and George Hincapie, eighth at 2-25. The Australian did not quite do enough to hang on to seventh place overall as Vinokourov hopped above him, but the last three weeks have underlined his potential as a major tour contender.

Hincapie too looks like he might go into next year's race expecting more of himself in terms of contending. Up to now he's been typecast as a Classics specialist who can turn it on in the mountains when required to help Armstrong, but his victory last weekend at St Lary Soulan and today's performance pushed him up to 14th overall. The New Yorker has improved his overall finishing position every year he's worked for Armstrong and may now be the American best placed to pick up his team leader's mantle.

But that's for next year. Now the race heads for Paris, where Armstrong should enjoy a trouble-free day on the Champs Elyses and retire in the sport's most coveted jersey.

Stage 20, St Etienne time trial

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 55.5km in 1.11.46 (46.40kph)
2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile 0.23
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 1.16
4 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC 1.33
5 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC 1.54
6 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 2.02
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 2.06
8 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 2.25
9 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 2.51
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears 3.05
11 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel 3.09
12 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 3.10
13 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Crdit Agricole 3.11
14 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 3.13
15 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Phonak 3.25
16 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 3.26
17 Luke Roberts (Aus) CSC 3.47
18 Dario Cioni (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 3.51
19 Jrg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros
20 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo 4.03

25 Chris Horner (USA) Saunier Duval 4.45
30 Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick Step 5.18
40 Brad McGee (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 5.53
77 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 7.47
102 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis 8.44
106 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros 8.55
117 Baden Cooke (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 9.35
123 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Davitamon-Lotto 9.50
141 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 11.23
149 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Ag2r 12.18

Overall standings

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 82.34.05 (41.76kph)
2 Basso 4.40
3 Ullrich 6.21
4 Mancebo 9.59
5 Leipheimer 11.25
6 Vinokourov 11.27
7 Rasmussen 11.33
8 Evans 11.55
9 Landis 12.44
10 Pereiro 16.04

14 Hincapie 23.40
17 Julich 24.08
33 Horner 1.07.57
41 Rogers 1.24.32
77 O'Grady 2.27.19
84 Davis 2.34.40
102 Roberts 2.54.12
106 McGee 2.56.11
123 White 3.23.41
126 Gerrans 3.27.03
132 Rodriguez 3.37.58
134 McEwen 3.41.52
142 Cooke 3.47.17

Points

1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 175
2 O'Grady 160
3 McEwen 154
4 Pereiro 118
5 Vinokourov 117
6 Davis 110

King of the Mountains

1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 185
2 Pereiro 155
3 Armstrong 96
4 Moreau 92
5 Michael Boogerd (Hol) Rabobank 90
6 Santiago Botero (Col) Phonak 88

Young rider: Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel
Teams: T-Mobile

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