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Ullrich Retains Lead In Tour As Finish Line Nears

The cyclists in the Tour de France came down from the Alps and went over the last major climb of the race Tuesday, and Jan Ullrich retained the overall lead despite some pain.

“I was hurting a little in the climb,” Ullrich said, after finishing 11th overall in the 16th stage, won by Frenchman Christophe Mengin. “I have been battling a slight cold but nothing serious.”

Richard Virenque, second overall to Ullrich, finished third in the stage and trails the leader by 6 minutes, 22 seconds.

Belgian Franck Vandenbrucke was second in the stage that went over the peak of St. Croix (5,814 feet) and is rated “first category” on a scale measuring height, steepness and difficulty.

Although various riders made attacks during the 112.5-mile leg from Morzine, France, to Fribourg, it came down to a final sprint. With the mountains behind them, all the normal sprinters were far behind.

A group of 22 cyclists went down to the finish together, including the top three in the overall standings: Ullrich, Virenque and Marco Pantani, who had combined to win the previous four stages.

Ullrich stayed with the leaders of the stage before fading a bit on the final stretch up the mountain and didn’t lose any time to them in the overall positions. Since last Monday, he has had two victories, two seconds, a third and a fourth.

Now, he is just concerned with staying close to Virenque in the remaining stages.

Wednesday’s stage returns the Tour to France, ending at Colmar.

There are three days in eastern France with rolling hills before another time trial around Disneyland Paris Saturday, the day before the race ends on the Champs Elysees.

The riders will have completed 21 stages and about 2,455 miles by the time they finish Sunday.