LAUSANNE, Switzerland, AP
American Lance Armstrong claimed the Tour de Suisse title in commanding fashion Thursday, taking over the No. 1 world ranking and issuing a stern warning to his rivals at the upcoming Tour de France. Last year’s champion Oskar Camenzind mitigated a disappointing performance this time around by clinching the ninth and final leg to collect Switzerland’s first stage victory. The undisputed favorite at the upcoming Tour de France, where he is looking to three-peat, Armstrong completed the 1,412.5-kilometer (877-mile) circuit in a total time of 35 hours and 6 seconds, a solid 1:02 ahead of recent Giro winner Gilberto Simoni. Italy’s Wladimir Belli placed third, 104 back. “It wasn’t an easy win,” said Armstrong, who overcame cancer to win the Tour de France in 1999 and 2000.
“The course is hard, it’s a high level field, the time trial was particularly tough. So I feel good. This is a great race. It’s arguably the biggest stage race outside the three big tours (Tour de France, the Giro and the Vuelta). It gave me confirmation that my condition is good. “Everybody wants to talk about the Tour de France in 10 days time but this Tour de Suisse is still a big race and an honor to win. I’ll remember it for a long time.” Armstrong is also expected to overtake Italy’s Davide Rebellin at the top of the world rankings released Monday by the International Cycling Union, to become No. 1 for the first time ever. “It was definitely on my mind,” Armstrong said. “I’ve never had that honor before. I’ve been close, third or second but never No. 1.” Camenzind, who last season became the first Swiss to win the country’s cycling tour in six years, covered the 176 kilometer (109-mile) loop that began and ended in Lausanne in 3 hours, 56 minutes, 18 seconds. France’s Emmanuel Magnien was right behind, with Christian Poos of Luxembourg crossing third, Russian Dimitri Konychev in fourth and Nicolas Jalabert in fifth, all with the same time. A powerful climber and a first-rate time trialist, Armstrong had virtually locked up the victory already on Tuesday, when he won a rare mountain stage against the clock from Sion to Crans Montana, building a solid 1:05 lead over his nearest challengers. Though he also won the prologue, the American’s triumph still came as somewhat of a surprise. He’d shown he was in solid form, finishing second behind Spaniard Iban Mayo at the Classic des Alps in early June, but few were expecting the American to push too hard just ahead of France’s showcase event. “At the beginning of the season it wasn’t our objective to come here and win but it just worked out that way,” Armstrong said.”I thought I had a chance to win here but the big objective is the Tour de France. When you come here, there’s always the Tour de France behind. Of course the Swiss race was a priority, we didn’t come here to slack off. Armstrong had come to the Swiss tour mainly to practice on the Alpine nation’s grueling climbs, in particular the mountain time trial, a solid preview of the critical 32-kilometer (19.9-mile) 11th stage of the Tour de France on July 18. It is on the strength of his climbing that the American captured his Tour de France titles, dominating the ascent to Sestrieres in 1999 and the Ventoux last year. “I learned a lot about the mountain time trial. I think that will be the most critical stage of the Tour (de France). It was good to come here and do that. It’s a rare and difficult discipline.”