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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Tour presents intriguing finale
By Dan Warren
BBC Sport

Lance Armstrong is facing a battle to retain the yellow jersey
Armstrong is not the only rider still bidding for glory
With the final weekend still to go, 2003 is being labelled a vintage year for the Tour de France.

Lance Armstrong remains favourite for a record-equalling fifth Tour win, although for once the American is by no means certain of first place with Jan Ullrich lurking behind.

And it is not just Armstrong and Ullrich who have plenty to ride for as the centenary Tour moves into its final few days.


Speed king

GREEN JERSEY CONTENDERS
1 Robbie McEwen 178pts
2 Baden Cooke 176pts
3 Erik Zabel 165pts
4 Thor Hushovd 151pts
5 Stuart O'Grady 133pts
Updated after Friday's stage
Of all the issues still to be settled, the winner of the green jersey - for best sprinter - is probably the most open of the lot.

Australian Robbie McEwen snuck ahead after Friday's stage of his compatriot Baden Cooke after Friday's stage - by a mere two points.

Stuart O'Grady has dropped off the pace, but Germany's six-time green jersey winner Erik Zabel and Norway's Thor Hushovd are still in touch.

After the gruelling mountain stages the Tour route flattens out, offering the specialist sprinters a chance to pick up points in all but Saturday's time trial.


Rising star

BEST YOUNG RIDER
1 Denis Menchov
2 Mikel Astarloza +42mins
3 Juan Miguel Mercado +60mins
4 Sylvain Chavanel +67mins
5 Michael Rogers +68mins
Updated after Friday's stage
Russia's Denis Menchov looks to have secured the white jersey for best young rider.

With two stages remaining, the iBanesto.com rider has built a substantial lead over his main rivals.

But of the contenders for Menchov's white jersey, the race for second place could be close.

Although Mikel Astarloza is well placed in second, Michael Rogers of Australia is expected to thrive in Saturday's time trial and could yet storm up the field.


Group glory

TEAM STANDINGS
1 Team CSC
2 iBanesto.com + 18:18
3 Euskaltel-Euskadi +40:27
4 US Postal +47:22
5 Team Bianchi +1:08:57
Updated after Friday's stage
Armstrong may be the man to beat for the individual riders, but his US Postal team are unlikely to be the most successful overall at this year's tour.

They lie third overall, behind Denmark's Team CSC and the Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi.

That is no great surprise in itself, as US Postal's main aim has been to protect Armstrong and ensure his smooth passage to the yellow jersey.

But team pride still counts and Tyler Hamilton's remarkable win for CSC on stage 16 provided one of the best stories of the Tour in recent years.


Upward bound

KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
1 Richard Virenque 324pts
2 Laurent Dufaux 187pts
3 Lance Armstrong 168pts
4 Juan Miguel Mercado 133pts
5 Christophe Moreau 132pts
Barring some kind of miracle, the French will have to wait longer for a new winner of the yellow jersey.

But they have had something to cheer.

Richard Virenque won his sixth King of the Mountains jersey, equalling a record held by Spain's Federico Bahamontes and Belgian Lucien van Impe.

He crushed his rivals to win the polka-dot jersey with plenty to spare.


Final glory

There is no jersey up for grabs, but the glory of being first home on Sunday's final stage is still something all riders desire.

Paris' famous Champs-Elysees is a suitably grand location for the riders to end their epic voyage, and it is the sprinters who are likely to thrive on the final day.

Australia's Robbie McEwen has won here in two of the last four years, but his sprinting rivals will be hoping to take the glory from him.





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