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Down to the wire: 2003’s close Tour a rarity

The battle to win this year's Tour de France is one of the closest in more than a decade. Indeed, this year is only the sixth time in the post-war era that the yellow jersey could possibly be decided on the final days of the three-week Tour de France. Germany's 1997 winner Jan Ullrich is currently trailing American four-time winner Lance Armstrong by just 1:05 ahead of Saturday's 49-kilometer race against the clock where the time gaps could again change. The 29-year-old Bianchi rider, whose return to the race has given Armstrong a real run for his money, beat the American in the 12th

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By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2003

Jean Robic

Jean Robic

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The battle to win this year’s Tour de France is one of the closest in more than a decade. Indeed, this year is only the sixth time in the post-war era that the yellow jersey could possibly be decided on the final days of the three-week Tour de France.

Germany’s 1997 winner Jan Ullrich is currently trailing American four-time winner Lance Armstrong by just 1:05 ahead of Saturday’s 49-kilometer race against the clock where the time gaps could again change.

The 29-year-old Bianchi rider, whose return to the race has given Armstrong a real run for his money, beat the American in the 12th stage’s race against the clock by 1:36 – although Ullrich will have to be more than exceptional if he is to beat Armstrong for the second time in the race.

With Sunday’s final 20th stage giving the yellow jersey contenders little occasion to claw back lost seconds, Ullrich is almost condemned to take over a minute in time off Armstrong if he is to manage the unthinkable.

Since 1947, when the Tour clicked back into gear after a break during the Second World War, there have been only five occasions when the race has been turned on its head in these latter stages.

1947: Jean Robic reversed the situation in the final stage between Caen and Paris. The Frenchman escaped on the Bonsecours hill in Rouen and rode into Paris with two other riders.

At the finish line he pulled on the yellow jersey for the first time in the race, relegating race leader Pierre Brambilla of Italy to third place.

Jacques Anquetil

Jacques Anquetil

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1964: Three days after a famous duel on the Puy-de-Dome, Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor lined up to dispute the yellow jersey in the final day’s time trial between Versailles and Paris (27.5km).

Anquetil won the stage to take an extra 21 seconds which pushed his French compatriot to second place at 55 seconds in the general classification.

1968: Belgians Herman Van Springel, wearing the yellow jersey, and Ferdinand Bracke, the world hour record holder, appeared to be the main contenders for victory ahead of a rare final-day time trial.

However, the yellow jersey was claimed by Dutchman Jan Janssen who took 54 seconds from Van Springel in the 54.7km race against the clock between Melun and Paris to push him into second place overall at 38 seconds.

Stephen Roche

Stephen Roche

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1987: Spaniard Pedro Delgado woke up with the yellow jersey on the day of the final time trial, a 38km test against the clock in Dijon.

However the little climber’s weakness in the race against the clock proved fatal and he had to hand the jersey over to Ireland’s Stephen Roche, who finished the time trial in third place to win the Tour over Delgado by 40 seconds.

1989: Frenchman Laurent Fignon, nicknamed “the professor” for his quiet demeanor and round glasses, had a 50-second lead over American Greg LeMond but got his sums wrong during the final day’s short 24.5km time trial between Versailles and Paris.

The Parisian, who opted not to put aero’ bars on his bike and allowed his pony tail to flop in the wind – lost 58 seconds to LeMond, giving the American an eight-second Tour victory, the closest in the history of the race…

…until now?

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