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Armstrong reclaims yellow jersey

American Armstrong is on course for a record sixth Tour triumph

VILLARD-DE-LANS, France -- Lance Armstrong reclaimed the overall lead in the Tour de France on Tuesday, closing in on a record sixth title with an emphatic finish on the first Alpine stage.

Armstrong out-sprinted Italian Ivan Basso, his last real challenger after two weeks of punishing racing, to take his second stage victory in the 2004 Tour.

He covered the 180.5-km 15th stage from Valreas to Villard de Lans in the French Alps in four hours 40 minutes 30 seconds with German Jan Ullrich third.

Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who had led Armstrong by 22 seconds in the overall standings at the start of the day, finished more than nine minutes behind.

If Armstrong is able to defend the yellow jersey until the race's end, on July 25 in Paris, he will become the first man to win the Tour de France six times.

Wednesday's 16th stage is a grueling individual time trial of 15.5 km up the legendary Alpe d'Huez mountain with its 21 hairpin turns and an average gradient of 7.9 per cent.

Armstrong, however, said he was not taking anything for granted.

"Basso is riding so good that there is a chance I can lose time tomorrow," the Texan told Eurosport after winning the 18th stage of his career in the world's most famous cycle race.

It was also his 61st yellow jersey, and Armstrong said: "I still remember when I put on the first one and I was the happiest man in the world, that would have been enough for me to take to the grave.

"Hopefully I'll have it for another five days."

The seven climbs scattered on the day's route proved too tough for young French champion Voeckler whose 11-day hold on the yellow jersey came to an end.

Basso, who again pushed Armstrong all the way to the line as he did in the Pyrenees, is 1:25 behind in second place.

Third overall is German Andreas Kloeden, 3:22 behind, after he was helped by his more famous T-Mobile team mate Jan Ullrich.

Ullrich, the 1997 champion, did manage to attack Armstrong on the first category Echarasson climb, briefly opening up a gap of 1:09.

But he eventually had to settle for third after Basso's CSC team-mates worked hand in hand with Armstrong's U.S. Postal team to reel him in.

As Kloeden tried to launch an attack with 500 meters to go, Armstrong reacted in merciless style, surging past the German and Basso to show that he is still the undisputed boss.

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