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Contador takes Tour de France lead, Armstrong falls back

VERBIER, Switzerland — Alberto Contador won a showdown with Lance Armstrong on Sunday, capturing the yellow jersey with a dominating victory in the first Alpine stage of the Tour de France.

Armstrong moved up to second place in the standings after the 15th stage, but lost time to his Astana teammate, who took control of the race in ending Rinaldo Nocentini's eight-day run in the overall lead.

The 26-year-old Spaniard broke away from other prerace favorites with 3.5 miles left in the 128.9-mile ride from Pontarlier, France, to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier — and kept extending his lead throughout the uphill finish.

Contador — the 2007 Tour winner — came into Sunday's stage in third place overall, 6 seconds behind Nocentini. Contador finished in 5 hours, 3 minutes, 58 seconds. Armstrong, who had entered the day fourth overall and 8 seconds behind Nocentini, finished ninth, 1:35 behind Contador.

The seven-time Tour champion trails Contador by 1:37 in the overall standings. Bradley Wiggins of Britain climbed from sixth place to third, 1:46 back of the Spaniard.

"St15 done. Ouch! Verbier was as hard as I thought. Alberto — super and had great punch/power. A heartfelt congrats to him. Rest day 2morrow!" Armstrong wrote on his Twitter feed after the stage.

Andy Schleck of Luxembourg was second in the stage, 43 seconds back, and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy was third, 1:03 back. Nocentini was 2:36 off the pace.

Riders get a rest day on Monday before two more stages in the Alps, an individual time trial in Annecy on Thursday, and then a ride up the dreaded Mont Ventoux on Saturday. The Tour ends Sunday in Paris.

Contador takes Tour de France lead, Armstrong falls back 07/19/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 19, 2009 1:28pm]
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