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Armstrong Poised for 6th Tour de France Title - 2004-07-23

Five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong of the United States has won the 17th stage of this year's edition of cycling's premier race and solidified his hold on the overall lead. Barring an unexpected injury or accident, experts believe Armstrong is on his way to a record sixth Tour victory.

Armstrong sprinted past German Andreas Klöden in the final meters of Thursday's 205-kilometer mountainous stage to win in 6:11:52 hours. Klöden was second just centimeters back and was credited with the same time.

Armstrong's chief rival, 1997 champion Jan Ullrich of Germany, was third, one second behind the winner. Ivan Basso of Italy was fourth. Here's how it sounded as Armstrong surged to the victory:

"And still Ullrich is waiting for the move from Lance Armstrong. As Kloden goes up to the line now it is not going to be far from the finish. There is a time gap, but the man in yellow [Armstrong in the yellow leader's jersey] is running at him with his usual determination. Ullrich is in the slip stream but Armstrong is coming with an incredible rush, and Kloden has realized it too late. Is there any stopping Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France? And the answer is no there is not. That was unbelievable!" the announcer said.

The 32-year-old Armstrong leads Basso by more than four minutes in the overall standings. Klöden is third overall, 5:11 minutes behind Armstrong. The American defending champion says it was a tough victory.

"It was a hard day," he said. "It came down to a much smaller group than I expected and you know, it was a tactical race the final few kilometers. Everyone was attacking so at that point for me, it was game on. Everything is fair."

Armstrong is trying to win the Tour for an unprecedented sixth straight time. Since the race began in 1903, only four men besides Armstrong have won the Tour de France five times: Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx of Belgium, and Spaniard Miguel Induráin. Only Armstrong and Induráin won their five titles in consecutive years. With just three stages left, Can Armstrong become the first man to win the Tour de France six times, in six consecutive years? We'll find out soon. The race ends Sunday in Paris.