Tour de France: Can Jan Ullrichbeat Lance Armstrong?

2nd July 2004, Comments 0 comments

2 July 2004 , PARIS - The 2004 Tour de France, which starts Saturday in Liege, Belgium, covers nearly 3,400 kilometres, but a 15.5km stretch of pavement may hold the key to Lance Armstrong's quest to become the first rider to win cycling's most prestigious race six times. That short stretch of road climbs up the legendary Alpe d'Huez mountain and is the venue of a gruelling individual time trial, as riders race against each other and the clock to an altitude of 1,820 metres. Those riders will come into tha

2 July 2004

PARIS - The 2004 Tour de France, which starts Saturday in Liege, Belgium, covers nearly 3,400 kilometres, but a 15.5km stretch of pavement may hold the key to Lance Armstrong's quest to become the first rider to win cycling's most prestigious race six times.

That short stretch of road climbs up the legendary Alpe d'Huez mountain and is the venue of a gruelling individual time trial, as riders race against each other and the clock to an altitude of 1,820 metres.

Those riders will come into that gruelling stage on 21 July, after having already covered some 2,800 kilometres and a number of tough mountain stages in the Pyrenees.

One of the keys to Armstrong's previous five Tour victories was that he better combined explosive speed with a climber's muscle and endurance than the others in the pack.

That monopoly may be coming to an end. In one of the preparatory races to the Tour, the Criterium du Dauphine Libere, Spaniard Iban Mayo beat the American by nearly two minutes in a time trial up another mythic mountain, Mount Ventoux.

Typically, the 32-year-old Texan was unmoved by the setback, and even repeated his claim that German Jan Ullrich, and not Mayo, would be his main challenger.

Many would agree. Like Armstrong, the 30-year-old German knows how to come into the Tour in peak condition, and this year he appears hungrier than ever to beat the man to whom he has finished second three times.

"He'll be tough to beat," Armstrong told the International Herald Tribune. "He's entering his peak years for an athlete in our sport."

Another strong challenge is expected to come from a rider who helped Armstrong to three of his Tour victories, Roberto Heras of Spain.

Tired of playing the handmaid to the champion, the 30-year-old Heras quit the US Postal team last year and joined Liberty Seguros. Considered one of the best climbers in the world, Heras needs to improve his time trial skill to be a serious threat to his former boss.

Another rider who could stand in the Texan's way include his friend and fellow American Tyler Hamilton, who rode most of last year's Tour with a broken collarbone and finished fourth, six minutes adrift.

The unprecedented time trial up the Alpe d'Huez will be dedicated to former Tour champion Marco Pantani, who died in February, a moving gesture but questionable in the light of this year's ambiance.

A colourful and popular rider, Pantani died of a cocaine overdose and had been suspended from racing for doping.

This year's Tour is already being run under a doping cloud that has cast shadows of suspicion on the sport, on the race and on its champion.

In March, Spanish rider Jesus Manzano told a Spanish newspaper that he and other riders in his Kelme team had doped during the 2003 Tour by giving themselves blood transfusions. This moved Tour organizers to kick Kelme out of the race.

One of Manzano's revelations was that riders were not worried about any of the Tour's doping tests because they knew how to get around them.

This was followed by the publication in the French weekly Le Point of excerpts from recorded phone conversations of unidentified riders blithely discussing various doping methods used in last year's Tour de France.

At the same time, a wide-ranging French investigation into the trafficking of doping substances has led to the barring from this year's Tour de France of several riders from the Cofidis team, including world time trial champion David Millar.

Finally, a book published just three weeks before the beginning of the race used the testimony of Armstrong's former masseuse to suggest that the five-time champion has consistently used illegal substances to improve his performance.

The atmosphere is so thick that Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said Tuesday that he could even foresee a police raid on the Tour while it is being run.

The Tour ends on 25 July on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

DPA

Subject: German news

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