Winless Armstrong still leads Tour

Lance Armstrong has still to win a stage at this year’s Tour de France but Paolo Salvodelli today became the second of his Discovery team-mates to cross the line first with an impressive victory in Revel.

Lance Armstrong has still to win a stage at this year’s Tour de France but Paolo Salvodelli today became the second of his Discovery team-mates to cross the line first with an impressive victory in Revel.

Salvodelli is almost cycling royalty after winning the Giro d’Italia this year but he has ridden as a lowly domestique for Armstrong in his pursuit of a seventh consecutive Tour.

However, the 32-year-old Italian got his reward today after joining an early break, powering past Kurt-Asle Arvesen of CSC on a long drag to the finish to join George Hincapie – who was victorious at Pla d’Adet on Sunday – as a Discovery stage winner.

“It couldn’t have gone better than this,” Salvodelli told British Eurosport.

“I got on the break because we in Discovery have to get to the front to control the race and then I went with it to win the stage.”

Even though he is without a stage victory, Armstrong remains comfortably in control of the yellow jersey, two minutes and 46 seconds ahead of second-placed Ivan Basso.

The 239.5 kilometres from Pau to Revel represented the longest stage of the 2005 Tour and its rolling profile, coming immediately after the final mountain stage, meant it was perfect for a long breakaway.

The decisive attack came with just over 55km gone when a 17-rider group was permitted to escape from a peloton than keen to give pursuit after yesterday’s epic crossing of the Col d’Aubisque.

Armstrong was visibly relaxed as he spent time chatting with his fellow riders or joking with the motorbike cameramen who buzz around him.

Ahead, the leading group split again with around 40km to go with eight riders, including Salvodelli and Arvesen, taking the initiative.

Salvodelli’s Giro win was characterised by battling solo performances as the race comes a long way after its French counterpart in Discovery’s list of priorities so he did not have the strength of support enjoyed by Armstrong this month.

But he used that experience to the full today, attacking and counter-attacking until the group was whittled down to a two-man race between him and Arvesen.

The Norwegian looked like he might take the win when he sprinted clear of the Italian but Salvodelli’s superior power took him over the line first.

The victory gave Discovery a significant boost in the team standings and, with their Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych over six minutes ahead in the young rider competition, Armstrong’s last Tour could prove especially sweet for the American outfit.

Even though the Tour does not finish until Sunday and there is still half of the season to go, talk is already turning to next year.

Who will lead Discovery in Armstrong’s absence is a favourite topic.

Basso was the early front-runner but he has decided to stay at CSC under the guidance of 1996 winner Bjarne Riis and with a substantially improved contract after turning down even more money from Discovery.

Since then, Alexander Vinokourov announced he was leaving T-Mobile, frustrated at playing second fiddle to Jan Ullrich.

The 31-year-old Kazakh was instantly linked with a move to Discovery but the suggestion was dismissed by sporting director Johan Bruyneel, who said: “We want someone who can win the Tour. Vinokourov isn’t one of them.”

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