Jan Ullrich moved to the verge of becoming the first German to win the Tour de France by finishing second in the final time trial of the 20th stage Saturday.
He has been wearing the leader’s yellow jersey since the 10th stage of the 21-stage race that began July 5.
“The essential thing was just to hold on to the yellow jersey,” Ullrich said. “I am a bit tired. Not only from the Tour, but also the demands outside it.”
The Tour ends today with a largely ceremonial ride of 99.4 miles from Disneyland to Paris, ending with 10 rides up and down the Champs Elysees.
Abraham Olano won Saturday’s 39.1-mile loop around Disneyland Paris. He was timed in 1 hour, 15 minutes, 57 seconds, beating Ullrich by 45 seconds. Olano trailed by more than 16 minutes prior to the trial.
In the overall standings, Ullrich took a lead of more than 9 minutes over Richard Virenque of France.
Marco Pantani of Italy was third, more than 14 minutes behind. Olano moved into fourth, 15:55 back.
Philippe Gaumont of France was third in the time trial, 1:12 behind Olano. Bobby Julich of the United States finished fourth, 2:24 back.
Bjarne Riis, last year’s overall winner, had bike troubles and lost more than 9 minutes on the day.
Ullrich, 23, has been the most consistent rider in this year’s Tour that has been marked by falls, controversial finishes and withdrawals because of injuries.
He was among the favorites when the Tour started. Although he was second on his team Telekom to Riis, there were many who favored Ullrich.
Ullrich stayed close while Riis faded in the Pyrenees. After that, Ullrich was released to go for the lead and he did on the second day in the Pyrenees.
Early in the Tour, falls eliminated top contenders Tony Rominger of Switzerland and Yevgeny Berzin of Russia, both sustaining broken collarbones.