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Armstrong relaxed, ready for decisive stage

Heading into the Pyrenees for what should be the decisive final mountain stages of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong had three reasons to be a very happy man.

First, he was on course for title No. 3, after a stunning performance in the Alps that left his rivals in awe and in despair.

Second and third, he will soon be the father of twin girls.

Armstrong found out the twins' gender after his triumph in the mountain time trial at Chamrousse. His wife, Kristin, brought him an envelope containing ultrasound test results and they opened it together.

"I didn't expect two girls," Armstrong said. "The easy expectation is one boy, one girl. My second expectation was two boys.

"It's a beautiful surprise. Perfect."

Armstrong is the father of toddler Luke. A survivor of advanced testicular cancer, he underwent treatments that made him sterile but banked his sperm beforehand. His wife, who is due to give birth in December, became pregnant through in vitro fertilization.

Armstrong had a day to dwell on the good news before the next stage of his title campaign.

On Thursday, the first of two rest days during the three-week Tour, riders were flown from Grenoble, at the foot of the Alps, to this southwestern city close to the Pyrenees.

Armstrong was photographed and filmed by TV cameras for much of the flight, but smiled and looked relaxed in the company of rival teams and reporters.

Stepping off the plane, he briefed journalists on his plans for the rest of the day: "Ride, eat and sleep."

The race resumes today with a 103.4-mile stretch from Perpignan to Ax-les-Thermes, 4,538 feet high in the Pyrenees. The next two stages, ending at Pla d'Adet and Luz-Ardiden, are similarly difficult mountain legs.

"Pla d'Adet is the hardest of the three," Armstrong said. "The hardest, the longest, with the most climbs. But Luz-Ardiden is also a dangerous day."

The principal danger for Armstrong is possible fatigue left over from the Alps, where he won at L'Alpe d'Huez and Chamrousse. He claimed similar mountain wins to spark his two title charges.

"You can only do efforts like that so many times in a three-week race," he said. "From now on, the objective is to take the yellow jersey."

88th Tour de France

LEADER: Thursday was an off day. Francois Simon of France leads. Lance Armstrong won the 11th stage on Wednesday, and Jan Ullrich was second.

TODAY: The 12th stage is a 103.4-mile mountainous stretch from Perpignan to Ax-les-Thermes.