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One of Armstrong's biggest foes takes fall
WASQUEHAL, France -- One key rival down for Lance Armstrong, at least four others to go.
Armstrong turned two treacherous cobblestone stretches of the Tour de France to his advantage Tuesday, while Spain's Iban Mayo crashed in a blow to his title hopes.
But other challengers, including German Jan Ullrich, American Tyler Hamilton, Italy's Ivan Basso and Spain's Roberto Heras could still derail Armstrong's attempt for a record sixth straight crown.
"Ugh, that's unbelievable," the Texan said in summing up the difficult day.
French sprinter Jean-Patrick Nazon won the third stage and Australian speedster Robbie McEwen took the overall race lead, 16 seconds in front of the fifth-place Armstrong.
But Mayo's disaster was the big news of the day, and resulted in him losing 3 minutes and 48 seconds to Armstrong.
Mayo crashed in a dash by the main pack of riders to be first onto the dangerous bumps, and couldn't make up the lost time even though he resumed racing in torn shorts.
"It's terrible," said Julian Gorospe, sporting manager of Mayo's Euskaltel-Euskadi team. "He fell at the worst time in the race, when everyone wanted to be near or at the front."
The 26-year-old Mayo is a fearsome climber and could regain time in the Pyrenees and Alps later in three-week showcase race. Armstrong has said he favors Mayo to win a mountain time trial four days before the finish in Paris on July 25.
But four minutes? Armstrong and the other top challengers would have to experience disasters of their own for Mayo to stand atop the winner's podium. Mayo risks falling further behind Wednesday, in a team time trial where his squad is expected to struggle.
"Today, you could not win the Tour de France but you could lose the Tour," Armstrong's sporting manager Johan Bruyneel said. "Almost four minutes for Mayo is a very, very important gap."