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Armstrong Back in Yellow after Mountain Stage

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Lance Armstrong yesterday took a decisive step toward a seventh consecutive Tour de France victory. He recaptured the overall leader's yellow jersey by outdistancing his main rivals in the race's first Alpine stage. Lance Armstrong's finish line surge appeared to be the impressive work of one rider, but it was actually the result of finally tuned teamwork. Eleanor Beardsley sent this report.

Unidentified Man: (French spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:

When Lance Armstrong recaptured the yellow jersey and took back his first-place position on the mountain road to Courchevel yesterday, his fans were ecstatic if hardly surprised. New York Times cycling correspondent Samuel Abt says Armstrong was just doing what he does in the mountains.

Mr. SAMUEL ABT (Cycling Correspondent, The New York Times): He has always attacked on the first day in the mountains. He likes to leave his stamp on the race. He likes to put some time on his opponents. It's always the first day. He put a lot of time. He intimidated everybody, showed everybody he was in great form. And that's when you show your condition and your form is in the mountain.

BEARDSLEY: Thousands of campers, picnickers and cycling fans lined the winding picturesque roads to watch first the publicity caravan and then the racers go by. A slower mountain stage has the advantage of giving spectators a real look at the riders instead of just feeling the wind on their faces as the cyclists past.

Unidentified Man: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: While cycling may look like an individual sport, it is very much a team effort. Cyclists ride in what is known as a pace line where they take turns at the front pulling the pack and breaking the wind for the other riders. Armstrong's Discovery Channel teammates deserve much of the credit for his impressive ascent yesterday. Six of them took turns at the front of the peloton, or pack, and tired out Armstrong's rivals one by one. Andy Weissel, who is an amateur cyclist from Bethesda, Maryland, said he loved watching Armstrong's team take him up the mountain.

Mr. ANDY WEISSEL (Amateur Cyclist): Lots of teamwork. You saw it. He had his team all around him. They pace him up until they can't do anymore and he takes over, you know? So they're still cutting air for him. There's still a lot of pacing on there. He talked to them. You saw on the screen he talked to them and said, `This is the time to go.' It was at about 10K, 12K, and the guy just took off who was with him, paced him up there till he had done enough. It was awesome. It was great.

BEARDSLEY: Last Saturday when Armstrong's team couldn't seem to keep up with him in the Vosges hills, it raised questions about Discovery's real strength on the tour, but those fears seem to have been put to rest after yesterday's race in the Alps. And while the team has changed sponsors from US Postal to Discovery Channel, most of its riders are the same. Andy Hood of VeloNews magazine says Armstrong's team, whether Postal or Discovery, has always been different from the others.

Mr. ANDY HOOD (VeloNews Magazine): With Armstrong's team, it's everything for Lance on the team. Lance is the captain. Everybody else gives away their personal ambitions to sacrifice for Lance in the tour. That's a big difference from other teams. Other teams will have different riders riding for themselves, whereas you saw today, everybody sacrificed everything for Lance. He's the captain. He's the boss of the team. They all work for him.

BEARDSLEY: Armstrong called yesterday's race the first great day for the Discovery Channel and the team has obviously found its rhythm. If Discovery can give a repeat performance in today's 102-mile Alpine stage from Courchevel to Briancon, many say they will be next to impossible to beat. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Courchevel, France.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.