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Armstrong starts strong in Tour de France

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands - Lance Armstrong could hardly have imagined a better start to what he's calling his last Tour de France.

The Texan placed an impressive fourth in the short opening time trial Saturday, shrugging off renewed doping allegations to dust several other likely podium contenders as well as edge rival Alberto Contador, the defending champion and prerace favorite.

Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, the world and Olympic time trial champion, collected a fourth Tour prologue win and second in a row, clocking 10 minutes even for the 5.5-mile ride on rain-dampened roads in Rotterdam.

Armstrong trailed 22 seconds back in fourth. Perhaps most impressively, the American bested Contador by 5 seconds.

The American's solid performance was almost certain to brighten spirits on the Radio Shack team on a day that started with new claims by former teammate Floyd Landis that the seven-time Tour champ was once involved in doping.

Armstrong, 38, sought to focus on the racing.

"In my heart, that was a surprise," Armstrong said. "I wanted to have a decent day in the time trial, and I was not the best out there today. But among the [general classification] rivals, I have to say it was the best one I've done since the comeback," Armstrong said, referring to his Tour return last year after a three-year hiatus.

Some potential Tour title contenders were already facing disappointment: Britain's Bradley Wiggins, an Olympic gold medalist and strong time-trial rider who was fourth in last year's Tour, was 77th overall - 56 seconds behind Cancellara.

Andy Schleck, who finished second in last year's Tour - one rung above Armstrong on the podium - placed 112th, 1:09 back of his Saxo Bank teammate and race leader.


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