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Alps will test riders' mettle

Lance Armstrong arrived at the foot of the Alps, where he began to take command in winning the Tour de France the past two years.

The Texan finished in 32nd place Monday in the ninth stage, 24 seconds behind winner Sergei Ivanov of Russia.

Armstrong is 23rd in the overall standings, 35 minutes, 19 seconds off the lead held by Australia's Stuart O'Grady. But his strength _ the steep mountain climbs _ awaits.

Armstrong holds a 27-second lead over his main challenger, Germany's Jan Ullrich.

During the next five stages, Armstrong will attempt to conquer the French Alps and the Pyrenees. The grueling stretches force many riders to quit the Tour.

"It's an open Tour," Armstrong said. "Everyone is in with a chance."

The big gap between Armstrong and O'Grady stems from Sunday's stage. Grady and 12 other riders finished more than 30 minutes ahead of the main pack, which included most of the favorites.

O'Grady is not considered a title threat. He is a poor climber and his place in the standings is about to plummet in the mountains.

"It's not really my thing or my specialty," said the Credit Agricole rider, who finished sixth Monday. "I think I'll lose the jersey because it's too difficult for me."

France's Francois Simon, second in the standings and 4:32 behind O'Grady, is well placed to take the overall lead in the run between Aix-Les-Bains and L'Alpe d'Huez.

Also a threat is Kazak rider Andrei Kivilev, who leads Armstrong by more than 13 minutes and is in fourth place.

The three-week race ends July 29 in Paris.

88th Tour de France

MONDAY, STAGE 9: A 114.89-mile stretch from Pontarlier to Aix-les-Bains at the foot of the Alps.

WINNER: Russian rider Sergei Ivanov in 3 hours, 57 minutes, 48 seconds.

HOW OTHERS FARED: Two-time defending champion Lance Armstrong was 32nd, finishing 24 seconds behind Ivanov. Australia's Stuart O'Grady retained the overall leader's yellow jersey.

TODAY, STAGE 10: A 129.79-mile stretch from Aix-les-Bains to L'Alpe d'Huez, high in the French Alps.

TV: Noon (taped), Fox Sports Net.

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