About the only one refusing to believe that Jan Ullrich is on his way to victory in the Tour de France is Ullrich himself.
The German rider dominated Friday’s 34.2-mile time trial and won the 12th stage by 3 minutes, 4 seconds over Richard Virenque. Another 4 seconds back was defending champion Bjarne Riis of Denmark.
Ullrich covered the loop around St. Etienne in 1 hour, 16 minutes, 24 seconds. Not since Miguel Indurain in 1992 has anyone won a time trial by 3 minutes.
In the overall standings, Ullrich leads by 5:42 over Virenque, and 8 minutes over Abraham Olano of Spain.
Virenque was second when Friday’s time trial began, 2:38 back, and surprised many by finishing second. Yet, he lost 3 minutes to Ullrich.
Ullrich, who took the lead with a show-of-force in the last climb in the Pyrenees on Tuesday, showed he could do well in the time trial, too.
Virenque still thinks he has a chance.
“He beat me by 3 minutes. But starting tomorrow we are on my ground,” said Virenque, who is at his best going up hills.
The riders have four days in the Alps starting today with the climb to L’Alpe d’Huez, with its 21 hairpin turns.
“I don’t know what I am capable of in this stage,” Ullrich said. I don’t want to talk of final victory until Colmar.”
Colmar winds up three days in eastern France next Wednesday.
There is another time trial around Disneyland Paris on July 26, the day before the race ends on the Champs Elysees.
The riders will have completed 21 stages and 2,455 miles by the time they finish.