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Tour Tidbits: Tough Tour, says Levi; Jersey games; Money, money, money

Leipheimer says this Tour the hardest…Levi Leipheimer says this is the hardest Tour de France of the four in which he has competed. The American leader of the Gerolsteiner team says the aggressive racing has been great for spectators, but hard on the riders. “The speed has obviously been higher, the competition is thicker, and I think the transfers have made it really hard,” said Leipheimer at the start of Stage 15 in Mourenx. “We haven’t had all that many mountaintop finishes, but it seems like there’s been a lot of climbing, and the races have opened up farther from the finish than

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By Nathaniel Vinton, VeloNews staff writer

Leipheimer says this Tour the hardest…
Levi Leipheimer says this is the hardest Tour de France of the four in which he has competed.

The American leader of the Gerolsteiner team says the aggressive racing has been great for spectators, but hard on the riders.

“The speed has obviously been higher, the competition is thicker, and I think the transfers have made it really hard,” said Leipheimer at the start of Stage 15 in Mourenx.

“We haven’t had all that many mountaintop finishes, but it seems like there’s been a lot of climbing, and the races have opened up farther from the finish than I’ve seen in recent years…It makes for great racing, but it’s hard on us.”

Moving toward seven…
Sitting comfortably in the lead, 2 minutes and 46 seconds ahead of Ivan Basso of Team CSC, Lance Armstrong is living for the moment.

“My time out there is limited, so I have to not look at the negative things,” said Armstrong. “If there’s one in a hundred that are negative, not dwell on that. Think of the 99 that are positive. And remember this Tour, remember this last week, and know that it will never be like this again for me. I will never have this opportunity to be in yellow again. It’s a special thing, and I need to cherish it.”

Survey says…
Former Tour stars Sean Kelly and Richard Virenque are now consultants for Eurosport, offering commentary for the multi-lingual sports broadcasting syndicate. VeloNews caught up with each of them on Tuesday following the 180.5-km 16th stage from Mourenx to Pau.

Virenque, who won the King of the Mountains jersey five times before his doping suspension and twice more after it, says Michael Rasmussen has locked up that trophy.

“I chose him as the favorite one month before the Tour,” Virenque said. “I didn’t think he’d be third overall at this point, but I’m not surprised because I said the one who got the polka-dot jersey would be within the top 5 of the general classification.”

Kelly was excited with Stage 16, despite his perpetually unexcited tone (which seems to add to his television authority).

“A good stage at the end of the day, considering that it could have been quite boring with Lance looking so strong,” said Kelly, who decisively won a stage in this Pyrenean town in 1982. Kelly says the race for the win is over.

“We still see T-Mobile and CSC pushing the pace up a bit, but it’s really only for the other classifications,” he said. “Ullrich is only trying to make the race difficult for Rasmussen.”

Hushovd green with envy
Sheryl Crow was waiting for her boyfriend Lance Armstrong to finish up a post-race television interview when Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole appeared by her side with a gift.

Hushovd, who leads the points classification by 14 points over Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) and 22 points over Robbie McEwan (Davitamon-Lotto), presented Crow with a green jersey. VeloNews could not confirm if it was autographed, but is going to assume that it was at least clean.

“I gave her a green jersey just for fun,” said Hushovd, when asked about it. “No, she didn’t ask for it. I just gave it to her.”

Then Hushovd had a bystander take a picture of the handover. Armstrong preferred not to be the one taking the snapshot.

Hushovd says he is getting a lot of attention at home in Norway since taking the lead in the points following Tom Boonen’s abandonment of the Tour in stage 11.

“I will be defensive – I don’t need to attack,” said Hushovd. “I came through the Alps and Pyrénées quite good, and after yesterday I am feeling much better. If there’s a sprint for the win, it’s more points to lose.”

Follow the money
After 15 stages of the 2005 Tour de France, a total of 549,150 Euros (656,802 U.S. dollars) in prize money has been disbursed. The breakdown, per team is listed below. The approximate exchange rate is one Euro to 1.19 U.S. dollars.

52,330 Euro – Discovery Channel
48,820 Euro – Rabobank
49,540 Euro – T-Mobile
37,900 Euro – Credit Agricole
37,160 Euro – Gerolsteiner
35,730 Euro – Davitamon-Lotto
34,130 Euro – Team CSC
31,190 Euro – Cofidis
30,340 Euro – Quickstep-Innergetic
30,230 Euro – La Francaise des Jeux
26,000 Euro – Fassa Bortolo
25,080 Euro – Illes Balears-Caisse d’Epargne
24,360 Euro – Phonak Hearing Systems
17,050 Euro – Bouyges Telecom
15,740 Euro – Liquigas-Bianchi
12,770 Euro – Liberty Seguros-Wurth
12,270 Euro – Saunier Duval-Prodir
8,870 Euro – AG2R Preyovance
7,970 Euro – Domina Vacanze
3,810 Euro – Euskaltel-Euskadi

Five teams clear blood tests on Tuesday morning
Riders from Bouyges Telecom, Francaise des Jeux, Phonak, Cofidis and Saunier Duval were subjected to blood tests this morning. All were clear with no abnormalities found.