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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) – Andre Greipel of Germany won the Tour Down Under for the second time in three years on Sunday, finishing fifth in the sixth and final stage of the ProTour event captured by Chris Sutton.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong placed 77th out of 129 riders in the stage to finish 25th overall, 1 minute, 3 seconds down on Greipel’s accumulated time of 18 hours, 47 minutes, 5 seconds.
Armstrong improved on his 29th-place showing in last year’s Tour, his first race back from a 3Â½-year retirement. Armstrong said he felt both lighter and stronger this year than he did in 2009, when he went on to finish third in the Tour de France.
The Texan hoped the Australian race would be his first step toward an eighth Tour victory in July.
“It won’t be easy as a guy who’s 39 years old by then, but I’ll give it my best,” he said.
Armstrong’s longtime team manager Johan Bruyneel also saw the American rider’s form and physical condition as being ahead of last season.
“Lance is good. He’s a lot different (to) last year,” Bruyneel said.
“Physically his form is a lot better. He feels good in the bunch and he feels good in the team so that’s three things that are a lot better than last year.”
Australia’s Sutton won the 52-mile stage over teammate Greg Henderson of New Zealand to give the newly formed Team Sky a one-two finish in the last leg of the six-day tour.
Greipel was credited with Sutton’s stage-winning time of 1:52:20, and protected his 11-second overall lead over Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain. Henderson was third in the overall standings, 15 seconds behind Greipel.
Sutton drove to the front of a bunched sprint to win the stage that looped parkland near the city’s business hub and was watched by 124,000 people. Henderson took second ahead of Australians Graeme Brown and Robbie McEwen.
The first 61 riders were credited with the same time as the stage-winner.
“I can’t believe it. It’s all about teamwork,” Sutton said. “We took control with about 2Ks to go. I just kicked and went for it.”
Armstrong rode near the middle of the peleton for most of the race and finished in that position, the fourth rider home for his U.S-based Team Radioshack.
Cadel Evans of Australia, a two-time Tour de France runner-up, finished 18th in the stage and sixth overall, 21 seconds behind Greipel. United States road champion George Hincapie, who was a teammate of Armstrong’s in all seven of his Tour de France victories, was 17th in the stage and 12th overall.
The strong field also included Spaniards Alejandro Valverde, who finished 19th overall, and 2006 Tour de France-winner Oscar Pereiro who was 72nd.
Greipel won the 2008 Tour Down Under but crashed out of last year’s event after colliding with a parked police motorbike on the third of six stages. He suffered a broken collarbone and was out of action for four months.
“I’m really happy and for the team as well,” said Greipel, who rides for the U.S.-based Team Columbia. “The team did a really good job the last week.”