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Lance Legstrong As the going got steep in the Tour de France, the man from Texas got going

He does not come in a can, nor is he amused by the question.
Prince Albert has, however, come from Monaco to the Tour de
France for the last several years, since his buddy Lance
Armstrong made a habit of winning it. There was the prince
emerging from the shotgun seat of the U.S. Postal team car after
Sunday's 14th stage, congratulating team director Johan Bruyneel
on another fine day at the office.

Having bid the prince adieu, Bruyneel bumped his head on one of
the team bus's side mirrors--his only mistake since this Tour
started. With seven days left, the blue train of USPS had put
Armstrong in an ideal spot: second place behind a young rider who
could not hold him off much longer. Armstrong, 32, was 22 seconds
behind Thomas Voeckler, a 25-year-old Frenchman who admitted he
almost certainly wouldn't be wearing the yellow jersey at the
conclusion of Wednesday's individual time trial up the Alpe
d'Huez, 9.6 searing miles against gravity and the clock. If
Armstrong is in yellow atop the alpe, odds are he'll be wearing
it four days later on the Champs-Elysee.

Armstrong admits owing much of his success to the blue cocoon in
which he is so often enveloped: a highly disciplined team whose
varied gifts were on full display the first fortnight. In the
rain-drenched countryside of the first nine stages, he was kept
out of the wind and near the front of the peloton, safe from the
crashes that claimed many rivals. It's beautiful to watch: the
Texan tucked in behind climbing specialists Chechu Rubiera or
Jose Azevedo, the lieutenants turning the screws on the rest of
the peloton, lifting their tempo up endless switchbacks with
obscene gradients, methodically shedding rivals until they
themselves fall away like spent rocket boosters, leaving the boss
to reach the heights alone. After Armstrong's gooseflesh-inducing
stage 13 win last Saturday on the Plateau de Beille--six hours
and 127 miles into it, he outsprinted Italy's Ivan Basso to the
line--Armstrong was rewarded first with an embrace from his
paramour, Sheryl Crow, then with double busses from the podium
girls. He was followed onto the podium by Voeckler, who donned a
fresh yellow jersey and smiled the smile of a man who knew he was
only borrowing it for a while.

--Austin Murphy

COLOR PHOTO: GERO BRELOER/EPA/SIPA (ARMSTRONG) REASON TO CROW With his girlfriend watching, Armstrong made hismove.