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Rediff.com  » Sports » Armstrong and Basso ready for duel

Armstrong and Basso ready for duel

July 21, 2004 14:43 IST

Lance Armstrong has the chance to crush his rivals hopes of overall Tour de France victory on Wednesday's individual time trial to l'Alpe d'Huez.

Five times champion Armstrong won in the Alpine resort in 2001 and following the withdrawal of Spanish climbing specialist Iban Mayo on Tuesday, the American is the clear favourite to take the stage and keep the yellow jersey he slipped on after victory in Villard-de-Lans.

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The 16th stage is only 15.5 km long, but 14 km of that are uphill, with the average gradient a lung-busting 7.9 percent.

The twisting road will be lined with more than 500,000 cheering spectators as the world's top riders battle the fearsome climb, and the clock.

L'Alpe d'Huez first hosted a Tour stage in 1952 and since Italian Fausto Coppi's victory it has become established as one of the sport's classic challenges -- being used on a further 22 occasions.

Armstrong put a ring around the stage many months ago as he began preparing for his attempt to win a record sixth Tour de France title.

In the last three months he has ridden the climb a dozen times to find the best line through the 21 hairpins, the right gears and testing an ultra-light bike.

Italian climber Marco Pantani set the record for the climb in 1997 when he clocked 37 minutes 35 seconds.

Armstrong is convinced that time will be beaten.

"Because it's a short time trial and not a long road stage, everyone will be fresher and so I'm sure times set will be the best ever," Armstrong said.

"There's something exciting about riding up l'Alpe d'Huez in the yellow jersey.

"I expect Ivan Basso to be strong and I think he'll be tough to beat. He's well prepared and has trained on the climb.

"But I have the good fortune of starting behind him, that's an advantage."

Basso has promised he will go all out to beat Armstrong in the time trial.

"I'll be going with my foot to the floor, full gas," he said. "I don't know if I can win but I'm going to try."

"The stage won't create huge time differences between the favourites in the Tour but it'll be a special stage and a special day," added the Italian, who is second overall 1:25 behind Armstrong.

The 157 riders left in the Tour will ride in reverse order of standings, meaning Armstrong will be the last man up the mountain.

Stephen Farrand
Source:
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