Stage 18: Good day, bad day

procycling's Tour team get some relief, Ullrich and Merckx strut their stuff on final climb, but the

procycling's Tour team get some relief, Ullrich and Merckx strut their stuff on final climb, but the


Good day:

The procycling car is no longer a red-eye express - a fresh driver has arrived - hurray! We can confirm that Lance A is not the only one finding all these transfers hard work. but at least he's got a helicopter and a private plane.

Jan Ullrich tagged onto the Basso-Armstrong tandem at the foot of the Cote de la Croix-Neuve to give himself a serious option on yet another podium finish. That will hang on his performance in St Etienne on Saturday.

Axel Merkcx rode himself into the ground in the stage-long break and reminded the Belgian media that he is still around, with a gusty ride on the climb to Mende aerodrome. Best of all, he gave Cdric Vasseur a flea in his ear for sitting on his wheel and then coming past him in the final 50 metres to claim second place on the stage.

Bad day:

Michael Rogers, Brad McGee, Denis Menchov, Iban Mayo, Joseba Beloki
- just some of the illustrious names languishing in the grupetto at Mende. These riders came to the race with hopes of challenging Armstrong: now they just want to make it to Paris.

Lance Armstrong: Consolidated his lead and moved one day nearer to Paris - and, to his chagrin, got dope tested twice in one day. Such are the perils of being the greatest-ever champion in the world's most famous endurance event.

French riders: Another chance for those finish-line interviews that specialise in resigned shrugs and Gallic clich as three Frenchmen in a break of 10 still could not get close to a stage victory. Now a nation will expect the reliable David Moncouti to restore some pride on Friday's stage to Le Puy en Velay prior to this weekend's inevitable Lance-fest.

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