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Mayo leaves Armstrong in his wake

Iban Mayo produces a brilliant ride to the overall lead in the Dauphine Libere

MONT VENTOUX, France -- Lance Armstrong was dealt a severe blow by Spain's Iban Mayo in the fourth stage of the Dauphine Libere, a 21.5km time trial up Mont Ventoux.

Mayo, last year's race runner-up, smashed the best time for the Ventoux climb to finish in 55 minutes 51 seconds and take the overall lead, leaving five-times Tour de France winner Armstrong almost two minutes adrift.

Armstrong had to be content with fifth place, 1:58 behind Euskaltel team leader Mayo, who was followed by American Tyler Hamilton in second, his Phonak teammate Oscar Sevilla in third and Juan Miguel Mercado in fourth.

The Texan remains fourth in the overall standings. The defeat was all the more painful for Armstrong as he had said the stage would be the first serious test of his form before the Tour, which starts on July 3 in Liege, Belgium.

"I probably expected to go a little faster," Armstrong told reporters after the stage.

"I knew Mayo would be tough. Clearly he is riding super."

But Armstrong insisted there was still a "long time" before the Tour and insisted he was not worried about his state of readiness.

"The defending champion who comes back without any fear is the one who loses," said Armstrong. But he added: "I'm not pulling the fire alarm just yet."

The U.S. Postal leader rode the ultra-light bicycle he intended to use for the potentially crucial Tour de France time trial up l'Alpe d'Huez on July 21.

Armstrong won the Dauphine Libere in 2002 as well as last year, en route for his record-equalling fifth Tour victory.

"Lance did not have a bad day but he was not outstanding either. He's not here to win the Dauphine Libere but to prepare for the Tour," said U.S. Postal team chief Johan Bruyneel.

His rivals refused to read anything into Armstrong's disappointing performance ahead of the Tour. "To me, he had a bad day," Mayo said.

"Personally, I'm confident. Last year I was on form too early and I cracked in the third week of the Tour. I have more strength and experience this year," he said.

Hamilton, who finished fourth in last year's Tour with a broken collarbone, added: "He's (Armstrong) still the Tour favorite. His condition is not yet what it'll be in July and he just had a bad day."

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