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Will Lance Armstrong win his last Tour de France by a country mile? Perhaps more intriguingly, will Jan Ullrich recover as the race heads east towards the
German border, or will T-Mobile, seemingly still struggling to cope with a raft of different agendas and strong egos, gradually disintegrate as the pressure begins to take its toll?
With the tension mounting, one man is still smiling, even if it is sometimes the bemused, uncertain and boyish smile of one who is a little overwhelmed by his new celebrity. Whatever happens in the team time trial, Salt Lake City's Dave Zabriskie has become a star in the past three days, and not just because he has worn the yellow jersey of Tour de France leadership.
CSC are set on hanging on to their race lead and Zabriskie acknowledges that his team are experts in the discipline, but he also has some pragmatic if eccentric thoughts on the outcome of the collective 'race of truth'.
"It'll be nice to keep it," the 26 year old said of the team TT, "but two seconds on Lance isn't a lot so we're going to have to go one hundred per cent tomorrow."
Zabriskie added that he had enjoyed spending Independence Day, July 4th, leading the Tour. "Maybe next year I will be back at home and I can remember this and we can have fireworks and barbecues.... and everyone can drink the drink that everyone likes to drink."
And he recounted a conversation, caught by the TV cameras, with Armstrong during the stage to Tours. "It was a little bit of ha-ha stuff," Zabriskie explained. "Lance said, 'Are you enjoying it?' and I said 'Yes,' so then he said could he have a turn and I said 'Sure - why not?'"
Armstrong struck a more serious tone after the stage three finish on the Avenue de Grammont. "We all know what's stake," said the Tour champion of the team time trial and his hopes for taking the race lead. "No matter how many times I have worn it, it's a jersey that I still cherish, so I'll be pedalling hard tomorrow. It's an important day, but we don't have to win. It's critical that we gain time and it's good for the team to show that we are one of the strongest."
The prospect of Armstrong leading the Tour from the Loire valley to the Champs Elyses now looms large. The bad news for those who've grown weary of his domination is that he's going the long way around.
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