Armstrong captured his second straight leg of the 89th Tour de France on Friday, winning the mountainous 12th stage from Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille and extending his overall lead.
The three-time defending champion at the world's most famous cycling race, Armstrong captured his 14th career stage win. He attacked on the final ascent to Plateau de Beille and his closest rivals for the yellow jersey -- Spain's Joseba Beloki and Igor Gonzalez Galdeano -- were unable to stay with the
Armstrong opened a two-minute, 28-second advantage over Beloki and is 3:19 ahead of Gonzalez Galdeano.
Stage 12 of the 2002 Tour bears remarkable similarities to the 13th stage of last year's event. As he passed the memorial to former teammate Fabio Casartelli, Armstrong on both occasions was headed for a stage win and about to establish his dominance
over the field.
Thursday marked the seventh anniversary of the death of Casartelli. The Italian rider perished after a fall on the descent of the Col de Portet d'Aspet during the 1995 Tour. He was riding on Armstrong's Motorola team.
The final climb on Friday was the only one on Stage 12 of the Tour's most difficult variety -- 'Hors Category' and the nearly 10-mile ascent displayed Armstrong's dominance in the mountains.
Over the final five miles of the stage, the American put a 64-second gap between himself and Beloki.
Though the finish in Paris remains nine days away, Armstrong is in prime position to ascend to the upper echelon of cycling royalty. He is looking to join France's Jacques Anquetil (1961-64) and Bernard Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985),
Belgium's Eddie Merckx (1969-72) and Spain's Miguel Indurain (1991-95) as the only cyclists to win the great race more than three times.
Armstrong already is recognized as among the world's most courageous athletes after battling back from life-threatening testicular cancer to capture the 1999 event. In 2000, he cemented his place among cycling's all-time greats, becoming the first American since three-time champion Greg LeMond (1986,
1989 and 1990) to claim back-to-back titles.
Saturday's 13th stage is a 106.25-mile trek from Lavelanet to Beziers. It features three climbs in the opening 34 miles.