- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

ERAING, Belgium (AP) Erik Zabel passed Lance Armstrong in the closing sprint to win the third stage of the Tour de France yesterday, leaving the Texan with a 10th-place finish.

Armstrong, trying to win the Tour for the third straight year, led the main pack briefly in the final half-mile, but Zabel rode by him from the left and stayed out front until the finish.

The German completed the 123.27 miles from Antwerp in northern Belgium to this southern town in 4 hours, 34 minutes, 32 seconds.

Zabel also won Sunday's first stage and now has 10 stage victories in five Tours.

France's Emmanuel Magnien was second, followed by Italy's Stefano Garzelli.

Australia's Stuart O'Grady was credited with the same time and claimed the yellow jersey as the race's overall leader. Marc Wauters finished more than 6? minutes behind and relinquished the overall lead.

Armstrong, also credited with the same finishing time as the top riders, moved up from 11th place to seventh overall and trails O'Grady by 21 seconds.

Another American, Bobby Julich, is in sixth place.

Armstrong entered Seraing close to the front of the main pack and edged ahead for a few seconds in the final stretch.

It was a rare example of a sprint-finish from Armstrong, who is familiar with the hilly roads in this part of Belgium. He finished second in the local Liege-Bastogne-Liege race, the world's oldest cycling classic.

The U.S. Postal Service team rider is expected to make his mark once the grueling three-week Tour moves to the Alps and the Pyrenees at the halfway point.

Armstrong's main rival for final victory is 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich of Germany, whose Team Telekom was impressive yesterday. All nine of the pink-clad riders including Zabel led the main pack and only split up in the final sprint.

Ullrich finished 13th and is in ninth place overall, three seconds behind Armstrong.

Zabel didn't think his team's display would trouble Armstrong.

"I'm certain that Armstrong has such a strong character that this show of force by our team won't have a big influence on him," he said.

Yesterday's route began in Belgium's flat Flanders region, where Flemish is the main language, and ended in the steep Ardennes hills in the French-speaking south of the country.

Cows galloped through meadows at the sight of the 187 riders and their accompanying cars and motorbikes whizzing past.

Fans turned out in large numbers to greet the cyclists as they climbed the wooded hills of the Ardennes, sometimes patting them on the back as they slowly rode upward.

Today's stage returns to France, taking riders 133.52 miles from Huy, Belgium, to Verdun across the border.

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