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Armstrong hits the front, then fades

LANCE Armstrong gave his comeback to professional cycling new credibility when he took a prominent role in the second stage of the Tour Down Under yesterday.

Armstrong was always with the peleton, joined in two attacks in the late uphill stages of the 145-kilometer stage and finished 45th of 133 riders, 13 seconds behind the Australian stage winner Allan Davis.

"I feel OK, but it was very hard," said Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who is returning after three years in retirement.

"Attacking on the hills wasn't the smartest thing to do.

"It felt pretty good. It's going to take a while to adapt to race speed and today proved that. The long drags uphill were never my long suit and when you get into the race and it's fast and guys are strong it's a suffer-fest. But I like to suffer, although it sounds weird."

Armstrong, 37, took part in an 11-rider breakaway as the stage through rural South Australia state neared an uphill finish in front of more than 10,000 fans at Stirling, 30 minutes outside the state capital Adelaide.

He then attacked again in a two-man breakaway with Australian Jack Bobridge, a rider 18 years his junior. On both occasions he came back to the bunch but he fulfilled a pre-race promise to be close to the front of the race and to take an opportunity when it presented itself.

Yesterday's stage took riders from a start on the tree-lined main street of Hahndorf, where riders petted baby kangaroos from a local wildlife sanctuary before mounting their bikes, to Stirling on the top of a steep hill outside Adelaide.

Through the heat of the day, riders toiled through undulating hill country, past vineyards and thoroughbred racehorse studs, via quaint small towns whose main streets were lined with cheering spectators.

They finished with three laps of a hilly circuit before the eventual finish line at Stirling.

Davis led the race on general classification after two stages, with a three-second edge over first-stage winner Andre Greipel of Germany. Armstrong was 68th in the overall standings and 23 seconds behind the leaders with four stages left.


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