- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

SARRAN, France (AP) For Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France is now a chance to shake hands with the wife of the French president in the midst of a leisurely ride toward victory in Paris.

Armstrong maintained a five-minute lead over his main rivals through the 16th stage yesterday, further cementing his hold on a third straight Tour title. Four stages remain before the champion is crowned Sunday.

Jens Voigt of Germany won the stage, a 142.29-mile stretch from Castelsarrasin to this town in central France.

Armstrong finished 25 minutes, 45 seconds behind and his position atop the overall standings was not affected. He continued to lead Germany's Jan Ullrich by 5:05, with Andrei Kivilev of Kazakstan in third place, 5:13 behind the Texan. All of the overall leaders were in the same pack and given the same times.

After the race, Armstrong attended the daily ceremony for the yellow jersey wearer and shook hands with Bernadette Chirac, wife of French president Jacques Chirac and deputy mayor of Sarran.

Barring sickness or accidents, Armstrong is almost certain to win a third consecutive Tour title, thanks to the lead he built in the tough mountain stages.

Voigt surged past Australian Bradley McGee in the final stretch to claim his first solo win in the grueling event. He rode the stage in 5:27:11.

McGee was five seconds behind, with Russian Alexandre Botcharov third, 1:59 off the pace.

"I could see that he [McGee] was struggling at the end," said Voigt, who wore the leader's yellow jersey in Stage 8 of this year's race. "With several hundred meters to go, I was sure I was going to win."

Voigt's Credit Agricole squad won the team time-trial in the first week of this year's Tour.

McGee appeared exhausted after the long ride under bright sunshine and said he almost blacked out at one point.

"I'm happy to be here," he said.

Voigt and McGee were part of a seven-man group that broke from the main pack at the 39-mile mark and stayed in front until the end.

The main pack was led home by Erik Zabel of Germany, with Australian Stuart O'Grady just behind. O'Grady retained the green jersey awarded to the best sprinter.

Five riders abandoned the event after a crash 18 miles from the finish. Jens Heppner, Oscar Pozzi, Marc Wauters, Vicente Garcia-Acosta and Sven Montgomery received medical attention after the crash, which took place on a fast bend. The extent of the injuries was not known.

By the end of the 16th stage, there were 146 riders remaining in the Tour from the 189 who took the start in the prologue more than two weeks ago.

Today's stage is a 120.28-mile stretch from Brive-la-Gaillarde to Montlucon in central France.

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