The riders in the Tour de France tried to crack leader Jan Ullrich on Thursday. Ullrich struggled, but he didn’t break.
So, with three days remaining in the Tour, Ullrich leads by 6 minutes, 22 seconds, and is almost certain to become the first German winner, barring a mishap or an accident.
Ullrich retained his commanding advantage despite a 1-2 finish by Festina riders Didier Rous of France and Pascal Herve.
The Festina team, winning its second consecutive stage, worked hard to separate from Ullrich.
“We tried everything to make Ullrich crack, but he didn’t fold when he was 30 seconds behind,” Herve said.
“I thought we were about to shake up the Tour,” Rous said. “Ullrich wasn’t well. We had 45 seconds on him before the last climb but no one wanted to collaborate.”
Rous had an advantage of more than 5 minutes over the rest of the field as he broke away from a small group halfway through the 18th stage from Colmar to Montbeliard, 108.7 miles.
Ullrich faded a little and fell behind. However, each time he needed help from his teammates to guide him back, they were there.
All the Festina riders work for Richard Virenque, the runner-up in the overall standings.
Ullrich, Virenque and the other leaders came in 5:28 behind Rous, who started the day more than 2 hours behind Ullrich.
There is another stage in eastern France before another time trial around Disneyland Paris on Saturday. The race ends Sunday.
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