Richard Virenque of France won the 13-mile climb up to the Courchevel summit Sunday - with overall leader Jan Ullrich right behind - to capture the 14th stage of the Tour de France.
As the pair pulled away from the others, they staged a one-on-one battle up the final climb. While Virenque showed the effort and applied the pace, Ullrich trailed closely behind. Ullrich calmly sat back, only occasionally standing up on his pedals.
At one point, Virenque asked the German to take over the pacesetting, but Ullrich politely refused, saying he didn’t want to work for Virenque.
Fernando Escartin of Spain took third, less than a minute behind.
The other top names of the pack, including Marco Pantani, who took Saturday’s l’Alpe d’Huez stage, were minutes behind.
Since July 14, Ullrich has taken two firsts, two seconds and a fourth to put the title - barring injury or mishap in the final week - virtually out of reach.
“I’m pleased that I was able to do well in the two big Alp stages,” Ullrich said. “I am happy I didn’t lose any time to Richard.”
In the overall standings, Ullrich still has a 6-minute, 22-second lead over Virenque.
Virenque still thinks he has a chance. “The Tour isn’t over yet,” he said.
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