American winning streak is in peril

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TIGNES, France (AP) – No more Lance. No more Landis. And their American successors are off to a lackluster start this year, jeopardizing an eight-year winning streak by U.S. riders at the Tour de France.

Denmark’s Michael Rasmussen won the eighth Tour stage Sunday to grab the overall leader’s yellow jersey that was won by Tour champion Lance Armstrong from 1999-05 and Floyd Landis last year.

Sunday’s 102.5-mile trek from Le Grand-Bornand to Tignes was the second of three Alpine stages, and many contenders just want to stay within striking distance of the leader.

Levi Leipheimer is shaping up as the biggest American threat in a competitive field. The Discovery Channel team leader placed sixth in the 2005 Tour, ninth in 2004 and 13th last year.

Many riders expect the final shakeout in the three-week race to take shape in three tough stages in the Pyrenees mountains at the start of the third week and a time-trial a day before the July 29 finish in Paris.

After eight stages in 2006, three Americans – Landis, David Zabriskie and George Hincapie – were within 21/2 minutes of the lead. At the same time a year earlier, five of the top 14 in the standings were U.S. riders.

This year, Leipheimer is 13th overall, 3:53 back of Rasmussen. Among the other top Americans, veteran Chris Horner of the Predictor-Lotto team is 25th, 6:29 behind, and Discovery’s George Hincapie trails 45th, 20:19 back.

Hincapie, a former lieutenant of Armstrong who briefly entertained title hopes at last year’s Tour, finished 17:26 back of Rasmussen on Sunday.

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