Hinault likes Ullrich's chances in TourPosted: Monday July 07, 2003 8:03 PM
SEDAN, France (AP) -- French cycling great Bernard Hinault thinks only one rider can challenge Lance Armstrong this year in the Tour de France -- Jan Ullrich.
Ullrich is in fifth place, five seconds ahead of Armstrong. Armstrong, winner of the last four Tours, is 10th.
"There could be riders who give Lance a difficult time, but only one can really beat him and that is Ullrich," said Hinault, a five-time Tour winner.
Ullrich won the Tour in 1997 and is a four-time runner-up, twice to Armstrong in 2000 and 2001. The German has been slowed by injuries and a drug ban the last two years.
Although Ullrich has had little race practice leading to the Tour, Hinault suspects that could work to his advantage.
"He is fresh, far from tired," Hinault said. "And, besides, the year he won he hadn't raced much before, either. So watch out for him."
In any case, Hinault would be happy to see Armstrong, a cancer survivor, join him as a five-time winner. The Texan is trying to match Spain's Miguel Indurain (1991-95) as the only riders to win five straight Tours.
"I admire him as a person because of the illness he came back from," Hinault said. "He is a great professional."
Every day during the Tour de France, six to 10 riders, including each stage winner and the overall leader, will undergo urine tests. The others will be chosen at random.
Riders have 30 minutes from the end of each race to provide a urine sample, Tour doctor Hubert Long said. He said each test takes labs about 30 minutes to process.
"If we did more we would be here all night," he said.
Drug use has plagued the Tour de France yearly since the Festina team was expelled from the race in 1998.
In addition, blood tests will be carried out at various times during the Tour. Long did not specify when the blood tests would take place.
"Blood tests do not immediately give an indication of doping, but there can be results which are different from the normal parameters and draw attention," Long said.
The French lead the pack when it comes to Tour de France winners.
Since the race began in 1903, a Frenchman has won 36 times -- twice as many as the nearest rival, Belgium.
Among France's winners, Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil boast five victories each. Belgium's Eddy Merckx also is a five-time winner.
Italy and Spain share third place with nine wins each. The United States is fifth with seven.
Spain's Miguel Indurain remains the only rider in Tour history to have won five straight. Italy's winners include Ottavio Bottecchia, Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali -- all with two victories each.
The United States joined the list in 1986 with Greg Lemond's victory. He followed with titles in 1989 and 1990. Nearly a decade later, Lance Armstrong won the first of four straight Tours.
In the face of complaints from Spain, Tour de France organizers Monday canceled plans to include Basque language signs on the race route in southern France.
The decision overturned an agreement with the Basque separatist group Batasuna to include the language on banners at the finish of the July 23 stage in Bayonne, in the heart of French Basque country.
Spain, the European Union and the United States consider Batasuna a terrorist organization with links to the banned separatist group ETA.
Tour organizers said they did not want to be seen as having "sympathy or connivance with a terrorist group on Spanish soil."
The Basque language was used when the race passed through the area in 1992 and 1996. Many signs along roads across the Spanish border are in Basque and Spanish.