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Lance Leads Tour Despite Alps Setback

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Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan won Wednesday’s second Alpine stage of the Tour de France with a solo ascent over the race’s highest climb – but since he trailed six-time champ Lance Armstrong by nearly five minutes overall, the American hangs onto his lead.

Just a day earlier, Armstrong, 33, took a giant step toward a seventh consecutive Tour victory, distancing himself ahead of his rivals on the first Alpine climb while girlfriend Sheryl Crow cycled nearby. The singer, 43, tackled the difficult hairpin bends of L’Alpe D’Huez.

“I did the whole stretch even though I might not have a set a new record,” she told reporters.

In a sprint to the finish line, Armstrong came in second to Spain’s Alejandro Valverde in the 10th stage, a 111-mile trek up to the ski resort of Courchevel. En route, Armstrong built a 38-second overall lead and moved well ahead of challengers who included Vinokourov – and finished the stage in 4 hours, 50 minutes, 35 seconds.

Afterward, Armstrong shot back at doubters who suggested his Discovery Team might be vulnerable after struggling in a moderately difficult stage Saturday, reports the Associated Press.

“To say the guy who has won the Tour de France six times is lucky to take the jersey again … how you can say those things I have no idea,” Armstrong said. “That’s not respectful, that’s not true, and that’s not reality.”

Wednesday’s 11th stage in this year’s race (the Tour ends in Paris on July 24) was a rough, 108-mile run through the Alps over three famed ascents. Vinokourov took the lead on the Col du Galibier on the 107.5-mile route from the ski station of Courchevel. It is the highest climb on this year’s Tour at 8,677 feet.

Armstrong scaled the peak more than two minutes behind Vinokourov in a group of about 20 riders. But he picked up what he had lost in time with a speedy descent, finishing 1:15 behind Vinokourov, in sixth place.

In Armstrong’s overall lead, he is ahead of Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark by 38 seconds. French rider Christophe Moreau moved to third place, 2:34 behind the six-time champion.