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Armstrong closes in on lead

LANCE Armstrong lies 39 seconds off the overall lead after four stages of the Tour Down Under but is ready to defy pain and fatigue in his comeback race to chase victory in its remaining two stages.

Armstrong, 37, finished among the main bunch and on the same time as fourth stage winner and tour leader Allan Davis of Australia yesterday, moving up on general classification to 38th place among 124 riders remaining in the race.

He battled heat, hills and strong winds for the fourth straight day in a race which marks his comeback from a three-year retirement, and he was still in a position after the fourth day to grab victory at the weekend.

"Body was tired today, legs were tired as well," Armstrong said.

"And for sure, they'll open up the race tomorrow. I may be crazy but I think I can be there. I know I won't be riding away."

Today's 148km stage from Snapper Point to Willunga includes two cruel climbs up the Willunga Hill and has been identified by experts as the stage most likely to decide the race.

The Tour concludes tomorrow with a 90km circuit around the streets of central Adelaide, the South Australia state capital.

Armstrong expects the race to suit the Australian sprinters again today but will do as much as his body will allow to put himself in the race.

"You've gotta be strong and again it depends on the wind tomorrow on Willunga. If it's anything like it was in training it will be hard for anybody to ride," he said.

"It's disappointing but still it's January not later July (or) so I have to keep reminding myself.

"This is still the first race back after a long time and I'd be kidding myself if I expected to show up and pound people. That's just not the way it's going to work."

Armstrong said conditions had made the race hard as a comeback event after a three year break.

"The break, the heat, the hills, the wind and the fact it's a stage race and it's been aggressive," he said.

"It's been harder than I expected but everyone will share that."

Davis took out the fourth stage yesterday in a bunch sprint finish at Angaston, in the heart of the Barossa Valley wine region. Australian Graeme Brown, who won the third stage on Thursday, was second and Jose Rojas of Spain third.

Armstrong's former teammate George Hincapie finished 19th on the stage for Team Columbia and was 12th on general classification, 30 seconds behind Davis who leads overall from Brown and another Australian Stuart O'Grady, a perennial contender for the sprinters' green jersey at the Tour de France.

Vladmir Efimkin of Russia, Andoni Lafuente of Spain and Australian Travis Meyer led the stage for most of the day while sprinters such as Davis and Brown lurked with Armstrong among the peleton.


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