Final preparations for Ullrich and Armstrong

With just three days to go before the start of the Tour de France, defending champion Lance Armstron

With just three days to go before the start of the Tour de France, defending champion Lance Armstron


Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich spent Tuesday checking out two key time trial for the Tour de France, which starts in Fromentine in just three days' time. Ullrich and his T-Mobile team-mates spent the day looking over the team time trial course between Tours and Blois, while Armstrong was down in St Etienne with Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel looking over the route of the long TT on the Tour's penultimate day.

Temperatures in central France were extremely high yesterday, and Bruyneel described the route of the 55.5km time trial course as "very hard and very demanding". He added: "Apart from the last 5km there is no flat at all. After two and half weeks at the Tour the gaps here are going to be enormous." Armstrong and Bruyneel are expected to fly to Nantes today in a private jet to join the other eight members of the Discovery team.

Ullrich has told the German press that he regards Armstrong as a "sporting rival" rather than a friend. "I don't even have his mobile phone number," said Ullrich. "This rivalry has not led to any kind of personal contact. We shake hands at the stage start each day, we wish each other good luck, but nothing more than that."

Armstrong, meanwhile, says he feels very strong on the bike, and has lost a kilo and a half since finishing fourth at the Dauphin Libr earlier this month. After that race Armstrong spent some days looking over the three stages in the Alps and has described them as "harder than expected", particularly the stage from Briancon to Digne les Bains, of which he says "there are no high summits, but it is going to be a hard day".

The Texan also said that the heat could be an important factor and lead to some surprising results. "We will have to think about just one thing: water, water, water," he said. However, the initial weather forecast for the next few days, for western France at least, is for unsettled and cooler conditions.

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