German cyclist Ullrich gains in Tour podium battle

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Photo by Emeric Bisbee

This Tour de France seems to be all about Lance Armstrong's final ride and his quest for a seventh championship, but the story lately has been cyclist Jan Ullrich.

The big German scrambled to stay with the overall leaders — Armstrong (above)and Ivan Basso — on Thursday's final 10%-grade climb into Mende. When it looked like he'd been dropped for good, the T-Mobile leader struggled back on the flat preceding the finish and finished with Armstrong, Basso, and Cadel Evans.

He had to feel good about this effort, because what he had done was shaved another 37 seconds from the man just ahead of him in the overall standings, Mickael Rasmussen.

The winner of Thursday's 118-mile stage was Marcos Serrano, a cyclist who rode a smart race, according to the Tour de France 2005 blog.

A cyclist for Liberty Seguros, Serrano (left)had attacked his small breakaway on the final climb in Mende. The 32-year-old Spaniard has never won a Tour stage, despite racing in them since 1999, and has 6 career victories.

The group containing Armstrong arrived about 11 minutes later. Second-place bicyclist Ivan Basso pushed the tempo and dropped everyone but Armstrong, Ullrich and Cadel Evans. Americans Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) and Floyd Landis (Phonak), both hanging onto the top 10 overall, arrived within a minute.

Ullrich can't beat Armstrong and has admitted it publicly. But the big German doesn't want to be denied a place on the podium two years in a row. So the T-Mobile leader is trying to unseat Rasmussen, the wiry Danish climber who is wearing the King of the Mountain's polka dot jersey.

You have to give him credit for taking on and beating the climber on a 2-mile climb up the Cote de la Croix-Neuve in Mende. Now placed 2 minutes and 12 seconds behind Rasmussen, Ullrich can look to Saturday's 34-mile individual time trial in St. Etienne for the final battle.

Ullrich finished 1 minute and 33 seconds ahead of Rasmussen in the first time trial, which was only 11 miles long. Saturday's ride is three times the distance.

In the overall standings, Cadel Evans jumped ahead of Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) in the top 10:
Armstrong (1, Discovery);
Ivan Basso (2, CSC) 2:46 behind;
Mickael Rasmussen (3, Rabobank) 3:46 behind;
Jan Ullrich (4, T-Mobile) 5:58 behind;
Francisco Mancebo (5, Illes Balears) 7:08 behind;
Levi Leipheimer (6, Gerolsteiner) 8:12 behind;
Cadel Evans (7, Davitamon-Lotto) 9:49 behind;
Alexandre Vinokourov (8, T-Mobile) 10:11 behind;
Floyd Landis (9, Phonak) 10:42 behind, and;
Christophe Moreau (10, Credit Agricole) 13:15 behind.

By the way, T-Mobile took back the overall lead in the team competition from Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team Thursday. Disco rider Yaroslav Popovych remains in the best young rider's white jersey.

(Editor's note: The images today are courtesy of Ms. Biking Bis and our son, Emeric, who are on assignment in central France while I hold things down at the editorial headquarters. They'll file from Le Puy and Saturday's time trial in St. Etienne.)

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