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Uphill climb looms

Armstrong sixth after bumpy week

QUIMPER, France -- Now for some well-earned rest and relaxation, Tour de France style.

Battered and bruised physically and mentally by a crash-filled first week, cyclists get their first day of rest today -- a chance to treat wounds, sleep in and steel themselves for the first mountainous stages ahead.

"It's been a crazy first week. I don't ever remember doing one like that," said five-time champion Lance Armstrong, who's nervous that a crash could end his bid for a record sixth crown.

Norway's Thor Hushovd won yesterday's hilly but fast stage through Brittany in western France, using a closing burst of speed to win the 104-mile stage from Lamballe to Quimper in 3 hours 54 minutes 22 seconds.

Armstrong remained in sixth place overall, 9:35 behind leader Thomas Voeckler. Marblehead's Tyler Hamilton is 36 seconds behind Armstrong, and rival Jan Ullrich is 19 seconds farther back.

"I had trouble because it was slippery and dangerous," said Ullrich, the 1997 champion and five-time runner-up.

All four riders clocked the same time as Hushovd. Ullrich was 21st, Hamilton 30th, Armstrong 33d, and Voeckler 58th.

After today's day off, the Tour swings for three days through the Massif Central, a mountainous, agricultural plateau of central France that will offer a taste of more brutal climbs that lurk farther south in the Pyrenees and then, in the final week, in the Alps. There, muscular sprinters will give way in the mountains to more nimble climbers and all-arounders like Armstrong.

"We'll start to see the start of the real race," Armstrong said last night. "There are a few days that are not so selective, but then we have the mountains and the start of the real Tour."

More than half of the 188 riders who started the Tour have been involved in crashes in the nervous and mostly flat first week that took the Tour through Belgium, into northern France and, yesterday, to the Brittany town of Quimper.

A dog scampering into the pack of riders near the end of yesterday's stage took down French rider Samuel Dumoulin, who finished nearly 11 minutes behind Hushovd.

Armstrong escaped serious injury in a fall Friday, and Hamilton is still sore from a spill. The crashes are largely the result of rain that has slickened roads, early nerves and the high speeds of the first week, where stages have ended with mass sprints. Teams looking to shepherd their leaders toward the front of the pack, fueled jitters by boxing for position.

"Every time I do the Tour, we talk about it being the craziest one to date. But this year has definitely been tough with the weather and all of the crashes," said American Bobby Julich, racing in his seventh Tour.

Hushovd's stage victory, secured with a burst of speed on the final uphill sprint, was the Norwegian champion's second in four Tours. His first was in 2002. "Today really was my day. I'm very happy," said Hushovd. "The Vikings have returned to Brittany."

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