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Five steps to heaven

Armstrong closes in on record-equaling fifth Tour win

Posted: Tuesday July 22, 2003 8:03 AM

PAU, France (Reuters) -- Lance Armstrong is only five stages short of a record-equaling fifth Tour victory with one more day in the mountains and a crucial time trial to come.

The American leads his main rival German Jan Ullrich by one minute seven seconds, while Kazakhstan's Alexander Vinokourov has vowed to keep fighting despite being 2:45 adrift.

Here is a preview of the final five stages of this year's Tour de France.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23
16th STAGE, PAU-BAYONNE (197.5 KM)

The mountains are not quite over for the riders, as they will have to tackle six climbs, including two first category ones in the French Basque country.

The last big climb of the Tour, the Bagarguy pass, has a gruesome reputation but it stands 87 km from the finish and will leave plenty of time for dropped riders to make it back.

Armstrong could take advantage of the climbs to try and take more time away from Ullrich while the stage is probably Vinokourov's last chance to close the gap on the leading two.

THURSDAY, JULY 24
17TH STAGE, DAX-BORDEAUX (181 KM)

In striking contrast to the previous days, the 17th stage will be the flattest on the Tour and will take place on one long stretch from the rugby town of Dax to Bordeaux.

Bordeaux has been dubbed 'the capital of sprinters' as fast finishers have almost always won in the wine city.

Though the leading favorites should have a chance to relax, the battle for the green (points) jersey should rage.

Australians Baden Cooke and compatriot Robbie McEwen, the points winner last year, will be favorites but German veteran Erik Zabel, winner twice in Bordeaux in 1995 and 1997 will be eager to make up for a disappointing Tour.

FRIDAY JULY 25
18TH STAGE, BORDEAUX-ST MAIXENT L'ECOLE (203.5 KM)

Another long, flat stage destined for sprinters while Armstrong and Ullrich will gear up for the following day's decisive time trial. The main goal for both will be to avoid crashes or mechanical incidents.

The American and the German will also keep an eye on the weather forecast as heat should favor Ullrich while mild weather would suit Armstrong.

SATURDAY JULY 26
19TH STAGE, PORNIC-NANTES (49 KM SOLO TIME TRIAL)

Potentially the crucial stage in this Tour. For the first time since 1990 in Vassiviere, when American Greg LeMond stole the yellow jersey from Italian Claudio Chiappucci to win his third Tour, the lead could change hands on the penultimate day.

Given his fantastic performance in the first time trial at Cap Decouverte, Ullrich could be seen as the favorite. But Armstrong has won the last time trial of the Tour four times in succession since 1999 and showed with his brilliant win in Luz-Ardiden he was back in great shape.

Vinokourov is not a specialist time trialist and should lose at least one minute on the leading duo. Spaniard Haimar Zubeldia, Briton David Millar and Colombian Santiago Botero will look for a podium place in the stage.

SUNDAY JULY 27
20TH STAGE, VILLE D'AVRAY-PARIS (152 KM)

Sunday's last stage is usually nothing but an opportunity for the Tour riders to show their colourful jerseys on the Champs-Elysees.

But the green jersey has been won in the last stage before and, if the race remained as close as it has been so far until the finish, even the yellow jersey could change hands on the last day for the first time since LeMond beat France's Laurent Fignon by eight seconds in 1989.


 
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