Mercado Wins Stage 18; Armstrong Still in Yellow
Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step -Davitamon) won his first stage of the 2004 Tour de France Friday over Vicente Garcia-Acosta (Illes Baleares-Banesto) in a mad dash for the finish on the 104-mile Stage 18 from Annemasse to Lons-le-Saunier. Dmitriy Fofonov (Cofidis), Sébastien Joly (Crédit Agricole) Marc Lotz (Rabobank), and Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) rounded out the top six finishers making it across the line over 11 minutes before the main peloton.
Lance Armstrong continues to lead the Tour de FranceLance Armstrong continues to lead the Tour de France
There were no major changes in the overall classification with five time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who finished 74th with the main peloton, still in the yellow jersey, holding a 4:09 lead over closest contender Ivan Basso (CSC). Despite quickly catching the six stage leaders early in the race and then falling back to the main peloton, Armstrong was content to stay with his team and out of trouble Friday, virtually assuring the Texan a sixth consecutive Tour title.
Andréas Klön (T-Mobile) is currently third in the overall standings behind Basso while long time rival and five-time Tour runner-up Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) is 8:08 behind Armstrong in the overall standings in fourth place. Armstrong teammate José Azevedo (U.S. Postal) rounds out the top five.
An early break by Mercado, Garcia-Acosta, Fofonov, Joly, Lotz, and Flecha met with little contention from the main peloton as none of the leaders are a threat to the overall classification. The group was able to extend their lead to just under 12 minutes.
An attack by Mercado in the last miles of the race pushed him away from his five compatriots and, taking Garcia-Acosta with him, the two were able to garner a lead of 19 seconds with about seven miles to the finish line.
The break proved to have enough legs to keep Mercado and Garcia-Acosta in front of Fofonov, Joly, Lotz, and Flecha for the rest of the race, setting the stage for a tight bid for the finish line.
The riders will tackle the final individual time trial of the Tour Saturday on the 37-mile course in Besançon.