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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 July, 2003, 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK
Armstrong eyes history
Armstrong tightened his grip on the yellow jersey in Saturday's 19th stage
Armstrong vowed to return in better shape next year
Lance Armstrong marked his move to within touching distance of a fifth Tour de France victory by vowing to return in 2004 in pursuit of an unprecedented sixth success.

Armstrong finished third in Saturday's time trial 19th stage to increase his lead over Jan Ullrich to 76 seconds with just one stage remaining.

And he then revealed he will now attempt to become the only man to win six Tours.

"I'll be back next year, and I'm not coming back to get second or to lose," he said.

Armstrong only has to stay out of trouble on Sunday's final stage into Paris to join Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain in the five-times winners club.

And although he is already eyeing up a sixth successive triumph, he admitted he will take time to reflect on what he described as his toughest triumph yet.

"This was absolutely the most difficult year for many reasons," he said.

"Physically I was not super, tactically we made some mistakes and then in general we just made some bad mistakes, but it's definitely the best [victory] of them all.

"The closest ones feel better."

I wasn't going too good going down the Galibier and I later discovered that somebody had moved my back brake
Lance Armstrong on some suspected sabotage

Little went to plan for Armstrong this year, as he suffered everything from pre-race illness and injury to crashes, tactical errors and even suspected sabotage.

"That was one of biggest mysteries in the team," said the American, who added that at times his team felt their race was "cursed" as the problems piled up.

"I wasn't going too good going down the Galibier and I later discovered that somebody had moved my back brake.

"For the first four or five hours, my back brake had been rubbing the wheels. When you're riding the Telegraph and the Galibier [climbs] then it takes a bit out of you.

"Then on the stage to Marseille the wheel of [team-mate] Pavel Padrnos just fell off the bike. In many ways it felt like an eerie tour," he said.

Armstrong also criticised his own levels of form and fitness before and during the race and - worryingly for his rivals - insisted he would be stronger next year.

"Definitely I feel like I have dodged a lot of bullets, and haven't necessarily been on top of my game," he said.

But he added: "I've learned a lot this year, and when I come back it won't be back with the same level.

"This year I was just totally unacceptable."



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