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Dierckxsens Takes Tour Stage

July 16, 1999

SAINT-ETIENNE France (AP) _ A factory worker, Ludo Dierckxsens decided to become a professional cyclist at an age when many riders are already pondering retirement.

Judging by the nature of his victory on the 11th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, the 35-year-old Dierckxsens is determined to savor every minute.

``Coming just two weeks after becoming Belgian champion, this is a dream,″ said Dierckxsens, who punched the air in delight and blew kisses to the crowd even before crossing the finishing line.

Dierckxsens turned professional in 1994. Although he is one of the cycling circuit’s veterans, he believes he’ll be able to compete at the top level for another two or three years.

At an event like the Tour de France, Dierckxsens plays a vital, although unsung, role for his team _ Italy’s Lampre _ as someone who nurses the team’s stars in his slipstream, tactically blocking off its rivals.

It’s hardly glamorous, but on a day like Thursday when most of the leaders at the tour _ including top three Lance Armstrong, Abraham Olano and Alex Zulle _ were happy to sit back and rest their muscles after two punishing days in the Alps, the Belgian grabbed his chance.

``At last I’ve done it!″ he rejoiced after his stage victory.

Although it was a low-key race, his victory was a refreshing one. But it didn’t change the overall standings. Going into the race, Dierckxsens was trailing overall leader Armstrong by 1 hour, 14 minutes and 33 seconds.

In second place Thursday was Dmitri Konyshev of Russia, 1 minute 27 seconds behind. He narrowly edged out Kazakstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov.

Belgium had two high finishes, with Rik Verbrugghe coming in fifth.

The main pack, including Armstrong, Richard Virenque and other top contenders, finished more than 22 minutes later.

Coming down from the Alps, the riders snaked through tranquil villages and rolling countryside alongside vineyards, apricot orchards and fields of sunflowers.

It was a relatively flat 14-mile ride from Le Bourg d’Oisans in the Alps to Saint-Etienne, capital of French bicycle manufacturing.

A group broke away after about 62 miles and led for the rest of the race.

Armstrong’s U.S. Postal team was happy to lead the pack for much of the race, controlling the only riders likely to eat into the 27-year-old Texan’s lead.

There was one notable climb, the 3,963-foot Col de la Croix de Chaubouret, before a descent into St. Etienne.

Today’s stage is a 126-mile race between Saint-Galmier and Saint-Flour. The race ends on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 25.