MULHOUSE, France – Lance Armstrong (search) gave up the overall lead in the Tour de France (search) on Sunday, allowing Germany's Jens Voigt (search) to wear the yellow jersey while the six-time champion prepares to scale the mighty Alps.
Armstrong finished 28th in the ninth stage and dropped to third overall, 2 minutes, 18 seconds behind Voigt. The Texan, seeking a seventh straight Tour victory before he retires, had been in front for five days.
Armstrong does not regard Voigt as a main contender. With the German wearing the yellow jersey entering Tuesday's start in the Alps, Armstrong will be freed of the worry of having to defend the lead.
"Voigt is not their guy for the high mountains," Armstrong said of the German's Team CSC.
Danish racer Mickael Rasmussen (search) took his first career Tour stage victory with a gutsy solo ride. Sunday's 106.3-mile route from Gerardmer and Mulhouse in eastern France took the riders over six climbs, and Rasmussen was first over them all.
Voigt crossed the line 3:04 seconds behind Rasmussen with French rider Christophe Moreau — good enough to take the overall race lead from Armstrong.
Armstrong finished in a pack with his main rivals several minutes behind Voigt and Moreau, now 1:50 behind in second.
Because they finished together in a group, the time differences between Armstrong and his main rivals — Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and Alexandre Vinokourov, remained unchanged. Their competition is expected to begin in earnest in the Alps. Ullrich finished 29th on Sunday, Vinokourov 35th and Basso 39th.
"We don't need the yellow jersey," Armstrong said at the start of the stage. "We don't need to keep it in the Alps. We need to have it at the end."
After the race, he added: "I felt like today might be the day when the jersey would be given away and it turned out it was."
The good news for Armstrong was that his Discovery Channel teammates rode strongly — recovering from a disappointing ride Saturday when all eight of them abandoned him in the final climb, unable to keep up with the quick uphill pace. That left Armstrong alone to fend off his rivals' challenges.
"We were better," Armstrong said. "That's good going into the rest day: regroup and get ready for the big climbs."
Armstrong's team did not give chase when Rasmussen sprinted off on the day's first climb, building up a lead that he never gave up. Nor did Armstrong's teammates seek to prevent Voigt from taking the overall lead, although they still pedaled robustly to make sure that he did not get too far ahead.
Armstrong's pack "weren't riding that much behind, so it happily worked for me," Voigt said.
He said he did not expect to keep the lead later in the high mountains.
"Today was my very last chance to take the jersey," he said.
Armstrong will have plenty of opportunities to gain time on the punishing Alpine climbs, or later in the Pyrenees and in a final time trial race against the clock on the Tour's next-to-last day, before the finish in Paris on July 24.
Rasmussen, who finished 14th overall in last year's Tour, had scouted out Sunday's route earlier in the year, thinking it might be possible for him to win.
"I knew what was coming and that was definitely an advantage," he said. "Ever since I started (cycling) I was dreaming about winning a stage like today. I'm very content."
By being first over the day's six ascents, Rasmussen racked up points in the Tour's mountain-climbing competition. That contest confers a distinctive polka dot jersey on the rider with the most points, currently Rasmussen.
"It's the only thing I'm good at, climbing mountains," he said.
Among the ascents on Sunday — the hardest of the race so far — was the famed Ballon d'Alsace, first climbed on the Tour 100 years ago. Rene Pottier ascended first that day in 1905, but later dropped out of the race with tendinitis. The Frenchman won the Tour the next year.
Five riders dropped out of the race Sunday, including American David Zabriskie of Team CSC. Zabriskie won the yellow jersey on the Tour's first day but lost it to Armstrong three days later when he fell in a team time trial. Zabriskie struggled with injuries picked up in the crash.
"It's been a real rollercoaster for me," he said.