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Safety first for Armstrong

He gives up lead to conserve energy

CHARTRES, France -- Lance Armstrong lost his overall lead in the Tour de France to Thomas Voeckler yesterday, an honor the five-time champion willingly conceded -- for now.

Withstanding rain-doused roads and high wind, Australia's Stuart O'Grady of Cofidis won the Tour's fifth stage with a sprint finish ahead of Voeckler and three other riders who broke early from the main pack and held on.

O'Grady thrust his arms in the air after winning a Tour de France stage for the second time in his career. Denmark's Jakob Piil was second and France's Sandy Casar was third. Voeckler, the French champion, was fourth.

At one point, the five-rider group built a lead as large as 17 minutes ahead of the pack on the 124.6-mile stage from Amiens to Chartres. Tyler Hamilton, of Marblehead, Mass., was back in the pack, finishing 46th.

The breakaway riders clocked 5 hours 5 minutes 58 seconds; Armstrong and the pack finished 12 minutes 33 seconds later.

Armstrong, who was 24th in the stage, fell to sixth overall -- 9:35 off Voeckler's pace.

When asked what his Tour lead over Armstrong meant, Voeckler chuckled. "Oh, I don't think he's worried about me," the 25-year-old Frenchman said.

Armstrong, seeking a record sixth straight Tour victory, captured the overall leader's yellow jersey a day earlier, thanks in part to a first-place performance in the team time trial by his US Postal Service squad.

But controlling the race lead so early brings pressures along with honors -- and Armstrong's coach said the 32-year-old Texan was willing to give up the yellow jersey temporarily.

"We can't kill the team for a breakaway by five people who aren't a threat in the overall classification," Postal sporting director Johan Bruyneel said. "I'm comfortable with the situation." Also, Armstrong disclosed he would skip the Summer Olympics to spend more time with his children. The Athens Games begin about three weeks after the end of the Tour de France on July 25.

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