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Mont Ventoux
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Tour de France News Extra for July 21, 2004

Edited by John Stevenson

Green jersey race hinges on stage 18

By John Trevorrow

Thor Hushovd
Photo: © Sirotti
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Stage 15 had little effect on the green jersey contest as an attack by Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) split the peloton and Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Dome) missed the move. None of the green jersey contenders made the finale, though Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) were with the front group to share the points on offer in the intermediate sprint in St Jean-en-Royans.

Robbie McEwen was fairly circumspect after the stage. "It was quick in the beginning and we had Axel Merckx in the move," he said. "Rabobank missed the break like they do every day. Maybe they need to set their alarm clocks five minutes earlier. The break was away and then they had to chase it down. Then they put blokes in the break who are too far up in GC so everyone chases them down. Whatever. They can do whatever they want. For me it wasn't such a good thing that Stuey and Thor were in the break. But it was much better for me that Stuey took the six points and not Thor. I was glad there was a break away before the first sprint because doing a full-gas sprint in the first hour at the foot of a climb is not a good thing on a day like this."

McEwen's lead is still a handy 12 points and he will be very pleased if it is close to that on the start of the final stage on Sunday.

The biggest challenge will come in stage 18 to Lons-le-Saunier on Friday. This is a day that will suit O'Grady and Zabel, but not McEwen or Hushovd. It is the stage that could completely turn the battle for the Maillot Vert, with the category 2 Col de la Faucille likely to be crucial. If O'Grady or Zabel make it over with the front group, and McEwen and Hushovd don't, whoever crosses the line first could grab all the points and put himself into green.

Armstrong looks forward to l'Alpe

With the yellow jersey on his back and every intention of keeping it there, Lance Armstrong is looking forward to the Tour's next great challenge - Wednesday's 15.5km individual time trial from Bourg d'Oisans to Alpe d'Huez.

For Armstrong and the Tour de France Alpe d'Huez is a climb that has significance way beyond its length or elevation. Since it was first used in the Tour in 1952 - when the village itself was an almost undeveloped mountain hamlet - it has been the scene of many epic Tour battles.

Armstrong is deeply aware of the Alpe's history. "There is something exciting about riding l'Alpe d'Huez in the yellow jersey," he said. Last year Armstrong used this mountain to take the yellow jersey on a stage won by Iban Mayo, while he won on the Alpe himself in 2001. This year, he intends to secure his lead. But he knows it won't be easy to defeat the challenge presented by CSC's Ivan Basso.

"I expect him to be strong, I think he'll be tough to beat," said Armstrong. "I think he's well prepared. He has trained in l'Alpe d'Huez before. I have the good fortune of starting behind him, which is a good advantage. I'm excited to do it, to be on the Alpe."

As always, Armstrong has prepared hard for this stage. "They don't call it the 'Race of Truth' for nothing," he said. "It's the race where people who have done the most work are the ones that excel. We spent a week there and rode up and down every day."

In other Lance Armstrong news, the five-time Tour winner's bottled water sponsor Dasani (owned by the Coca-Cola Company) announced on Monday that it had renewed its association with Armstrong until 2006.

Scary days ahead for Rogers

By John Trevorrow

Michael Rogers (Quick.Step) is still hovering just back from the big hitters and looks still have a bit in the tank. "It's just getting harder and harder every day," he said. "They are just going like madmen from the start and I think it's a harder circuit than last year. At the start [in 2003], we had two weeks on the flat without a breath of wind. This year it's been wind, rain, hail… everything, and everyday has been like a world cup race.

"We had to do a lot at the front today to work for Virenque for the mountain jersey. I'll do my best in the time-trial, I'll see how I go. I'm still hoping to make it into the top 20. I would have like to be in the front today but it's just getting harder and harder. Tomorrow, Alpe d'Huez and then the next day… Everyone's shaking, they will be scary days. I know I've improved so much over the last year. I've got nothing to prove here."

Netherlands wants Tour start

Two towns in the Netherlands are working on bringing future Tour stages to the cycling-mad low countries. Valkenberg and the province of Zeeland are discussing the possibility of hosting the prologue of the 2005 Tour, while Rotterdam mayor Ivo Opstelten is currently in France to try and persuade Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc to bring the start of the race to the port town in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

The Tour last visited the Netherlands in 1996 when the prologue and following two stages started in Hertogenbosch.

Bettini aims for Athens

Quick.Step's Paolo Bettini is using this Tour de France as the world's biggest training race, with his sights on the Athens Olympic road race.

"I'm not here to win the Tour but to work hard to peak at 110 percent in mid-August," he told Reuters. "The Tour is the biggest race in cycling but August will be the most important month of my season. Hopefully July and the Tour will be a stepping stone to a gold medal."

The 2003 World Cup champion was never a favourite for the overall classification in a three-week race, but had hoped for a stage win. With the race about enter its final phase in the Alps, he will now simply try and conserve his strength.

"In the last week of the Tour I've got to look after myself so that I come out of the three weeks in good shape ready for the Olympics," he said. "If I have a bad day I know I have to back off and finish in the pack and if things get really bad I'll even quit the Tour so that I don't push myself too far.

"The Tour's yellow jersey is Lance's thing, I'd prefer to have an Olympic gold medal."

Pre-race banter

By John Trevorrow

Before today's start a few of the guys were still in rest mode. Scott Sunderland was savouring the final moments.

"Ahh - rest day. It's a mental thing," he said. "You finish the stage and you know there's a rest day and the body shuts down. I had no energy yesterday and I just relaxed. Only did one hour easy on the bike and just recovered. Today I woke up and the body knew it had work to do and I feel fine, got work to do. Not the slightest bit lethargic."

Baden Cooke only had one thing to say about the rest day. "Need another one."

Matthew Wilson obviously enjoyed the day off and was one of the first on the start line this morning. "It was very relaxing and I took full advantage of a day off in the sun in Provence," he said.

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