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Tour in brief: Ullrich may bow to Klöden; Phonak confident in Hamilton; Sheryl wants Lance on a different kind of tour

Ullrich won’t quit, but may work for KlödenFormer Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) has handed rival Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor) further room to breathe after announcing he may in fact become a support rider for teammate Andreas Klöden. The 1997 winner and five-time runner-up came into the Tour de France as the main threat to Armstrong, but could now finish the race further down than second place for the first time in his career. In the Pyrénées, Armstrong has all but ended the German's yellow-jersey hopes. Ullrich began the 14th stage already seven minutes

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By VeloNews Interactive, and wire services

Ullrich won’t quit, but may work for Klöden
Former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) has handed rival Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor) further room to breathe after announcing he may in fact become a support rider for teammate Andreas Klöden.

The 1997 winner and five-time runner-up came into the Tour de France as the main threat to Armstrong, but could now finish the race further down than second place for the first time in his career.

In the Pyrénées, Armstrong has all but ended the German’s yellow-jersey hopes. Ullrich began the 14th stage already seven minutes behind Armstrong, who is only 22 seconds away from taking the lead from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Brioches la Boulangere).

Having lost nearly three minutes on the first Pyrenean stage to La Mongie, Ullrich lost almost the same again the following day on the way to Plateau de Beille. During that stage, won by Armstrong, Ullrich even told Klöden to ride ahead and stay with the American.

“Jan told me to go up to the front and ride as long as possible with Armstrong,” said Kloden, who lost just over one and a half minutes from both days. As a result, Kloden is in fourth place overall at 3:18 and looks to be in better form than his team leader and training partner.

Ullrich hasn’t given up, though. “You could say that Armstrong is unbeatable, but there are a lot of hard stages between now and Paris, and I’ll be fighting all the way,” said Ullrich. And team manager Mario Kummer insists that Ullrich remains team leader.

“There are two important time trials next week, and he is better than Andreas in this domain,” Kummer said.

Phonak still confident in Hamilton
American Tyler Hamilton’s retirement from the Tour de France will not change the way his Swiss Phonak team regard its leader, according to team manager Jacques Michaud.

Hamilton came into the Tour with yellow-jersey ambitions after his fourth-place finish and stage win last year despite riding the entire race with a fractured collarbone picked up from a crash on the first stage.

This year the 33-year-old American was again unlucky, sustaining a back injury from a crash that led to his retirement from the race early in Saturday’s tough 13th stage.

Phonak had built their team around Hamilton, and Michaud said the team still had confidence in him despite the appearance that he had pulled out of the race with less serious injuries than he had last year.

“There’s a difference in the consequences of the two crashes he had last year and this year,” said Michaud. “Last year he managed to finish the race despite his collarbone injury because he is a rider who, because of his way of pedaling, doesn’t need to rely on it so much, unlike some riders who get up out of their saddle to pedal.

“Tyler relies more on his pelvis, his kidneys and his lower back when he pedals. He uses his lower back a lot more than most other riders, and that’s exactly where he was injured this year. His crash at Angers was a big blow.”

Still, Michaud said he had no regrets at building the team around the American.

“Tyler was in good shape,” he said. “But when you crash, there’s not much you can do about it. A crash can more or less end your race.

“Tyler remains a solid leader of our team, he proved that this year. He won the Tour de Romandie (in Switzerland), he was second in the Dauphiné Libéré, and he’s brought a lot to the team. He has our complete confidence. His status as team leader is not under question.”

Stand by your (wo)man
The next time Sheryl Crow embarks on a punishing musical tour, she expects Lance Armstrong to stand by his woman. After all, she was there for him at the Tour de France.

“I’m going to drag him on the road with me,” she said.

Armstrong is marching toward a record sixth straight title in cycling’s showcase race, and his rock-star girlfriend has been following him on his trek across the French countryside.

“It’s the nicest thing to be in a support situation and not to be competing,” Crow said after Armstrong won Saturday’s 13th stage from Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille in the Pyrénées. “For me, it’s a real kick.”

Crow feels excited and privileged to be part of the cycling world, which she feels does not often open its doors to women. Even Armstrong said in his autobiography, written before he met the singer, that bike races aren’t “an environment for wives and girlfriends.”

“I have to say I think it’s amazing that Lance has included me because it’s a very male sport,” Crow said. “The women don’t come out. It’s really kind and generous to include me in all this.”

Earlier in the Tour, Armstrong said how much he appreciated having Crow close to him during the race.

“Sheryl’s a great girl, and obviously more than just a friend,” he said. “She’s been there every day for me.” – Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.