Armstrong stays ahead

DAHLONEGA (GEORGIA), APRIL 24. Lance Armstrong made the most of a ninth-place finish. The 32-year-old Texan maintained his slim overall lead over Jens Voigt on Friday after the fifth stage of the Tour de Georgia.

Armstrong raced from Dalton to Dahlonega in 5 hours, 41 minutes, 9 seconds on Friday, keeping his lead over Voigt for a second straight day at .24 seconds.

``The climbs weren't very hard, but the undulations early on — every time you turned a corner, there was another half-mile hill,'' Armstrong said. ``You do 50 of them and you start to say, `Enough of this.'''

Jason McCartney, a 20-year-old from Iowa, was a surprise winner of the 224.3-km leg in 5:40:16. He went to the lead 26 minutes into the leg as the course wound east through the southern Blue Ridge Mountains.

Armstrong, who will seek an unprecedented sixth straight Tour de France title in July, had already started racing on Friday when the U.S. Postal Service, his team's sponsor since 1998, announced it won't renew its contract after 2004. Tailwind Sports Corporation of San Francisco owns Armstrong's team.

``I suppose if we find a new sponsor, then everything will be fine,'' Armstrong said. ``But if we don't, I don't know that that's a good thing for cycling in general when you consider that the team that wins the Tour every year can't find a title sponsor.''

McCartney began the day in 100th place — 10:05 behind Armstrong — and he raced consistently on the six climbs. He enters Saturday's sixth leg in 43rd place, 9:12 behind Armstrong.

``I'm not really a threat to the overall, so I've been working pretty hard the whole race,'' McCartney said. ``It was about the stage win today.''

The next leg of the Tour de Georgia leaves Athens on Saturday and heads north to Brasstown Bald, the state's highest point at 4,679 feet. Cyclists will climb approximately 15,110 feet in the sixth stage. They covered 18,493 on Friday.

Armstrong agreed with Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini about the course's deceptive hills. Cipollini can attest to such difficulty. After winning the second stage from Thomaston to Columbus, Cipollini fell to 74th overall after finishing 70th on Friday.

Chris Horner attacked at the bottom of the last hill at Woody Gap, but the 3,200-foot ride proved too difficult to catch McCartney.

``I've never seen a stage like that today,'' Armstrong said. ``I can't compare. At one point, Cipo came up to me and said, `I've never seen a course like this,' and I said, `I know. I haven't either.' It was tough.''

With Brasstown Bald looming, Armstrong also was careful not to exhaust the legs of his team.

``We tried to monitor everybody's feelings and stay at eight guys as long as possible,'' Armstrong said. ``Of course if somebody comes back for bottles, then the whole team slows down.''

Horner's gamble contributed to his 10th-place finish, but he remained third overall, 0.51 seconds behind Armstrong in the seven-stage event that ends on Sunday.

Overall standings (after stage five): 1. Lance Armstrong (U.S.) 17:02:19; 2. Jens Voigt (Ger) 17:02:43; 3. Chris Horner (U.S.) 17:03:10; 4. Bobby Julich (U.S.) 17:03:25; 5. Brian Vandborg (Den) 17:03:49; 6. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) 17:03:50; 7. Christopher Baldwin (U.S.) 17:03:56; 8. Eric Wohlberg (Can) 17:03:58; 9. Phil Zajicek (U.S.) 17:04:51; 10. George Hincapie (U.S.) 11:22:59. — AP

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