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Tour de France News for July 23, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

Ullrich believes in victory

Two rivals
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Despite losing 0'40 to Lance Armstrong on Luz Ardiden in Stage 15, Jan Ullrich believes that he can still win the Tour de France, which will likely come down to the final time trial between Pornic and Nantes this Saturday. Ullrich is sitting 1'07 behind Armstrong on the general classification, and has to ride around 1 km/h faster over the 49 kilometres to take back that deficit.

The last time something like that happened was in 1989 when Greg Lemond beat yellow jersey wearer Laurent Fignon by 58 seconds in the final 24 km time trial to win the Tour by 8 seconds - the closest margin in history. In the first time trial in this year's Tour, Ullrich took 1'36 out of Armstrong and therefore believes that there is a realistic chance of beating the Texan, who has won every final Tour time trial since 1999.

"I followed [the 1989 Tour] on the television and I can remember Fignon's face when Greg Lemond won," wrote Ullrich in his website diary. "This time it could also be as tight."

However Ullrich doesn't limit his chances to the time trial, as there are four additional stages - including the last one - where he could try and take time out of Armstrong. "I will look for my chance every day," he wrote. "I want to win this Tour. I've never been so close to Armstrong. I feel that I'm coming into top form. And if it is only a matter of a few seconds that separate us on Sunday after the time trial, then it's legitimate to attack on Sunday."

Speaking of legitimate attacking, Ullrich remains convinced that he did the right thing in waiting for Armstrong when he crashed on Luz Ardiden. "Cycling is for me the hardest sport. It needs this fairness! Also if Armstrong's waiting two years ago is not comparable, because then he had a comfortable advantage and this time it was for the overall win, I would still act the same way."

Ullrich also wasn't happy with the actions of Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia, who sprinted at the end of the stage to try and take second and third place, and the valuable 12 and 8 bonus seconds (Ullrich ended up finishing a close third). "It wasn't correct that Mayo and Zubeldia went for the time bonuses in the sprint, because they didn't take any turns in front. They didn't need those seconds," said Ullrich.

In further comments about Stage 15, Ullrich was quoted in L'Equipe as saying "I was afraid that there was a bit of bluffing in the way he [Armstrong] was riding. On Monday morning I was still convinced that he was going to attack and that he would make a big move. I wasn't wrong. I tried to attack Lance [on the Tourmalet] but it didn't work."

Team director Rudy Pevenage commented about Ullrich's Tourmalet attack, "No doubt he should have waited until the last climb but it was he who took the initiative. He who doesn't attack can't hope for anything."

Closest ever tour victories

1989: 8" Greg Lemond - Laurent Fignon
1968: 38" Jan Janssen - Herman van Springel
1987: 40" Stephen Roche - Pedro Delgado
1977: 48" Bernard Thevenet - Hennie Kuiper
1964: 55" Jacques Anquetil - Raymond Poulidor
1933: 1'01" Georges Speicher - Learco Guerra
1966: 1'07" Lucien Aimar - Jan Janssen
1956: 1'25" Roger Walkowiak - Gilbert Bauvin
1996: 1'41" Bjarne Riis - Jan Ullrich
1985: 1'42" Bernard Hinault - Greg Lemond

Moreau staying "humble and concentrated"

Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) enters the final five days of the Tour in eighth place with an 11'12 deficit on Lance Armstrong. The best placed French rider in the race told L'Equipe that he was happy with the way things worked out in Stage 15. "Once I saw that I could keep up with the Ullrich group on the descent of the Tourmalet, I told myself 'Good God, it's not true! You're not going to get dropped now that you've made it through the hardest part,'" he said. "To be with Hamilton, Mayo, Ullrich, Zubeldia or Vinokourov, I couldn't be more proud."

"The further along the Tour gets, the better I feel," he continued. "I almost regret that there's no mountain stage tomorrow [rest day]. I'm not far from Hamilton's seventh place overall. Fifth place is very far away, but to be in the first seven in Paris would make me very happy since the level of this Tour is very high. I'm staying humble and concentrated."

Chest X-rays clear for Heras

Roberto Heras (US Postal-Berry Floor) hasn't been able to play his normal Tour role to pace Lance Armstrong up the climbs to the best of his ability. The lightly built Spaniard has been suffering from breathing problems, and the team fears that it could be bronchitis. Heras was taken to hospital in Pau for chest X-rays today, but they didn't reveal anything.

David Millar still not good

David Millar (Cofidis) has been suffering in the Pyrenees, slipping from 19th to 39th on GC, nearly an hour and a half behind. However the tall Scot who lives in Biarritz hopes to get through tomorrow's final mountain stage between Pau and Bayonne. "I'm still very sick but one thing is sure is that I'll be at the start on Wednesday because it's very important for me to finish in Bayonne [near his home]," he told L'Equipe.

"Yesterday [Stage 15] I suffered a lot in the first 50 kilometres and I thought I wouldn't make it, particularly when I jumped from the peloton to try to get into a group of 17 riders where there was not a single Cofidis. I did it for the team but afterwards I vomited everywhere."

Millar was glad to reach the end of the stage and the rest day today. "The idea of a rest day is comforting because I learned that in the Tour, things can always get worse," he finished.

McEwen will have to save the day

Apart from the fact that Quick.Step-Davitamon has earned the most prize money so far, this year's Tour de France has not been a good one for the Belgians. "As the Belgian riders in the Tour have been performing weakly, nobody will take offence if I look at selecting youngsters for the World Championships," said Belgian National Coach José De Cauwer in the Belgian press today. "I am not talking about the first eight of the selection but about the other four spots."

In the VUM newspapers, the criticism of the remaining Belgians in the race is strong. "With Verbrugghe and Axel Merckx gone home, it looks like we will have to hope for a 'Belgian' victory by McEwen," they wrote.

McEwen, who has a Belgian spouse and is very proud to be regarded "three quarters Belgian" has thus been given a serious task and responsibility. The sprinter who resides in the quiet picturesque town of Everbeek can expect the whole town on his front lawn if he brings home the Green Jersey or manages to finally beat Baden Cooke and co. in the bunch sprints.

He has got the assistance of the best Belgian domestiques he could wish for in Hans De Clercq, Christophe Brandt and Serge Baguet. They are have been piloting him in every sprint and have been given orders to do so in every intermediate and final sprint left in the race. Without their help, a "Belgian victory" would be an even bigger Utopian dream.

Top six riders tested on rest day

The first six riders in the general classification (Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, Alexandre Vinokourov, Haimar Zubeldia, Iban Mayo and Ivan Basso) were had to undergo blood tests on the second rest day of the Tour in Pau. None of them were over the maximum allowed 50 percent haematocrit, and all will thus be able to continue in the race.

Tour slightly less popular in the Netherlands

Despite being treated to one of the most thrilling Tours in history, the Dutch public has seemingly not embraced the Tour de France as much as it has in previous years. NOS-TV ratings compiled at the end of the 15th stage show that an average of 727,000 people have been watching the live coverage, compared to 755,000 (for the whole Tour) last year. Although the figure can still change before the end of the Tour, so far it represents a drop of around 3.5% in viewing audience.

The most popular stage of the Tour was last Sunday (Stage 14 from to St Girons to Loudienvielle) which saw 1.4 million viewers follow it live. This is greater than last year, when the maximum figure for a mountain stage was 1.3 million. Also the Tourjournaal colour program each evening on Nederland 2 is more popular this year, with an average of 792,000 people tuning into Mart Smeets compared to 550,000 last year.

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