|Axel Merckx celebrates his stage win (AP Photo)|
Merckx finished the 219-kilometer ride (from Vaison-la-Romaine to Grenoble) in 5:15:01 hours. Inigo Landaluze of Spain was second, 2:15 seconds back. Another Spaniard, Benjamin Noval was third nearly 6:00 behind Merckx.
Armstrong finished in a pack of riders more than 9:30 minutes behind the stage winner. The American hopes to win a seventh-straight Tour de France title in July, but has said that this year's Tour will be his last.
Landaluze's finish was enough to propel him to the overall lead with only two stages left in the race. The Spanish rider leads Merckx by 2:32 seconds in the overall standings. American Levi Leipheimer is third, 2:51 seconds off the lead. Armstrong is fourth overall.
Saturday's penultimate stage covers 155 kilometers from Albertville, the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics, to Morzine Avoriaz. The race ends Sunday in Sallanches.
Some information for this report provided by AP.