Spaniard Marcos Serrano took advantage of an uphill finish to break away from two other riders, winning team Liberty Seguros its first victory over the 117-mile Stage 18. Six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong maintained what looks to be an insurmountable lead of 2:46 with four days to go.
Marcos Serrano nears the Stage 18 finish line. The Spaniard's win was the first for team Liberty Seguros at the year's Tour.
Serrano was part of a lead pack that escaped the peloton after Carlos Da Cruz, of Francaise des Jeux, attacked at 23 miles. The last 1.5 miles of the stage featured a category two climb that Serrano used as a launch pad to crush Cedric Vasseur and Axel Merckx, the last two riders from the original pack, crossing the line without a challenger in sight.
In the race for third place, Vasseur jumped out of Merckx's shadow just before the line to take the points and time bonusas well as an angry dressing down by Merckx, who felt the French rider hadn't done enough to share the work in the final miles.
Merckx, the son of five-time Tour winner great Eddy Merckx, had been favored to win the day, even by Lance Armstrongwho made his thoughts known to a reporter midway through the race.
Armstrong rode with his Discovery Channel team and main rivals, 12 minutes behind the leaders. He is sitting on a comfortable 2:46 lead over Team CSC's Ivan Basso and has shown he does not intend to allow Basso to ever leave his sight.
Still, Armstrong forced the pack to accelerate over the final miles, and several of the Tour's top riders could not keep pace. Only Basso, Jan Ullrich, and Cadel Evanswho dashed ahead of the Texan on the line to take 11th placemade it with Armstrong up the final climb. The rest lost considerable ground.
Among the top ten riders, Mickael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), and Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) finished 37 seconds behind the yellow jersey.
Rasmussen clinched the polka-dot jersey today, 50 points ahead of Phonak's Oscar Pereiro. Armstrong is in third in the category with 92 points.
Rasmussen is also 2:12 ahead of Ullrich in the fight for the third place podium finish in Paris.