SAINT-AMAND-MONTROND, France (AP) -- With a freshness that surprised even himself, Lance Armstrong pounded his way to a fourth stage victory, further tightening his grip on Tour de France title No. 3.
"I've never felt this good in a time-trial," said the Texan. "I had great legs. The course was perfect."
Defying temperatures of 86 degrees and humid conditions, he completed the 37.88-mile stretch from Montlucon to this town in central France in one hour, 14 minutes and 16 seconds -- a whopping 1:24 faster than second-place Spaniard Igor Gonzalez Galdeano.
The victory followed his stunning earlier performance in the Alps and the Pyrenees, where he won three tough mountain stages and built a big lead atop the overall standings.
The uphill legs force many to abandon the Tour, but this year even the steepest mountain climbs didn't unsettle Armstrong.
"I was never on the limit this year," he said. "When you're prepared well, it doesn't hurt at all."
"I've never had the crises that I've had the last two years," he added, referring to his tendency to flag in the final mountain stages in 1999 and 2000.
That didn't prevent him from winning the title both times, but this year he was determined to ride strong throughout all 20 stages.
"For me that was the biggest test, to eliminate the bad last day in the mountains," said Armstrong.
Because of his 6:44 lead over second-place Jan Ullrich of Germany in the race standings, Armstrong is almost certain to win a third consecutive title in Paris on Sunday. He would be the first American to do so: Greg LeMond won the Tour three times, but with a two-year gap between titles No. 1 and No. 2.
Only sickness or an accident can prevent Armstrong from winning again, a possibility he is wary not to overlook.
"It's not over," he said. "I have to be smart, to be safe. I would hate to have a problem tomorrow (Saturday) or the last day.
"But if you do have a problem and you crash and hurt something or don't finish, then you lose the race."
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