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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 July, 2003, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Top of the Tour
By Matt Majendie

Tyler Hamilton (left) and Lance Armstrong (right) - the Tour's leading lights
Hamilton and Armstrong stole the headlines for much of the time
Not since 1989, when Greg Lemond overturned a 50-second deficit on the final stage to beat Laurent Fignon, has the Tour de France been this enthralling.

From Alessandro Petacchi's four stage wins in the opening week to the titanic tussles between Lance Armstrong, Joseba Beloki and Jan Ullrich, the drama has continued to dazzle even the most disinterested.

Armstrong may have got the better of his rivals but he showed signs of frailty on his way to a fifth successive title.

Here, we rate our top five stars of the centenary race.

1. Tyler Hamilton

Tyler Hamilton
Hamilton was one of the greatest casualties of the horror crash at the end of stage one.

X-rays revealed a double fracture of the collarbone, prompting the American to announce his immediate withdrawal from the race.

But he stunned everyone by deciding to ride on, although his retirement seemed inevitable.

He continued to surprise, going so far as to make Armstrong look second best in the early mountain stages before clinching a famous win on stage 16.

Hamilton's efforts have made him arguably the bravest rider in Tour history.

2. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong
It may seem harsh that he should fall behind countryman Hamilton in our pecking order.

After all, Armstrong rode an excellent race to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as five-time winners of the event.

But the Texan was certainly was not the force he has been in previous years.

And had Joseba Beloki not crashed out of the race, there could well have been a different outcome altogether to the overall standings.

3. Jan Ullrich

Jan Ullrich
Many insisted the 1997 winner was not in good enough shape to even push for a podium place.

But in many ways he proved to be the revelation of the race, showing that he still has the potential to win cycling's ultimate prize for a second time.

His first ride in the time trial was breathtaking as was his ability to attack Armstrong in the mountains.

Added to that, when Armstrong fell on stage 15, Ullrich did his popularity no harm by refusing to attack.

4. Joseba Beloki

Joseba Beloki
Beloki, who has finished second to Armstrong in the last two Tours, looked set to be the American's biggest threat once again.

The Spaniard constantly attacked in the Alps, leaving his chief rival stranded for brief moments in stages seven, eight and nine.

But it was all to end in tears for Beloki when he fell on the final ascent on stage nine, sustaining multiple fractures that forced his immediate retirement.

It will remain a case of what could have been for Beloki.

5. Alessandro Petacchi

Alessandro Petacchi
The fiery Italian was the very essence of the opening week, blasting his way to a staggering four stages.

Prior to the race, much of the talk had been about Robbie McEwen, Erik Zabel, Baden Cooke and Stuart O'Grady.

But none of them came close to troubling Petacchi, who decided to hang up his bike the moment the Tour headed into its first hill.

Links to more Tour de France 2003 stories


Who is the star of this year's Tour de France?
Lance Armstrong
Joseba Beloki
Tyler Hamilton
Alessandro Petacchi
Jan Ullrich
13380 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion




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