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Byline: Ted Tracey

LANCE ARMSTRONG is bang on course to win a record sixth Tour de France crown after yesterday's 18th stage. Spain's Juan Miguel Mercado outsprinted compatriot Vicente Garcia Acosta in the closing straight but American Armstrong did enough to ensure his rivals for the overall title stayed firmly in his wake.

All the US Postal team star needed to do was ensure none of his closest challengers stole a march on him.He did just that and is almost certain to claim his crown in Paris tomorrow.

Yesterday's 166kilometre ride from Annemasse to Lons-le-Saunier gave some of the lesser names a chance to battle for the honours and Mercado and Acosta grabbed the opportunity. They were part of a six-man breakaway and with just over 12km remaining they went for broke and left their fellow escapees in their wake.

Mercado, of the Quickstep-Davitamon team, managed to edge Acosta (Illes Balears) on the line.

Kazakhstan's Dmitriy Fofanov was third but Armstrong and the other heavyweights rolled in more than 11 minutes and 29 seconds later.

Mercado said: 'I knew if I could stay strong there was a good chance of winning the stage.'


CAN'T CATCH ME: Armstrong looks over his shoulder but no one is within touching distance of his crown
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 24, 2004
Previous Article:Travel: Man of the world.
Next Article:Cycling:TOUR DE FRANCE SPECIAL: Lance stokes flames in feud.

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