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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ullrich Deposes Riis in Speedy Trial

ST. ETIENNE, France -- Jan Ullrich virtually snatched the Tour de France crown from the head of his Telekom team leader Bjarne Riis with a devastating victory in the 12th stage time trial Friday.

The German, runner-up to Riis last year after a similarly impressive time trial outside Bordeaux, beat Richard Virenque of France by 3 minutes, 4 seconds after having to change bikes because of a puncture.

Ullrich, covering the 55-kilometer circuit around St. Etienne in 1 hour 16 minutes, 24 seconds, strengthened his grip on the race by extending his overall lead to 5:42 over Virenque.

The German, characteristically modest, said he had gone into the time trial unsure how he would fare. He said he was unsure which bike to choose in changing weather conditions that included rain at times.

"I wasn't sure what I could do in this particular stage," Ullrich said. "It was very tough, but I was lucky because I avoided the rain."

"The coming days are going to be very hard, and I don't want to talk about my chances before getting over the Alps," he said.

Ullrich overtook Virenque on the descent into St. Etienne, but the Frenchman, who on Thursday said he would be more than pleased if he was two minutes slower than his rival, reduced the deficit slightly with a brave final burst home.

Riis was third, four seconds behind Virenque.

Spaniard Abraham Olano, fourth in the time trial, remained third overall but now eight minutes adrift of Ullrich with Riis one second further back.

Virenque, third overall last year, said: "I managed to limit the damage. Now comes my terrain and I'm going to fight to the finish."

The tough climb on the 1,200 meters Col de la Croix de Chaubouret halfway through the circuit, expected to favor the mountain specialists Virenque and Marco Pantani of Italy, is precisely where Ullrich shattered his rivals.

Superb in the climb, he translated a lead of seven seconds over Virenque and Olano at the 12.5-kilometer mark into an advantage of 1:44 over Pantani and a remarkable 2:16 over Virenque, including the bike change just short of the summit.

Riis, who punctured after 13 kilometers, was 2:22 behind his young teammate at the peak, where he changed bikes again for the descent.

Olano, who made a fast start, was level with Virenque after 12.5 kilometers and nine seconds ahead of the Frenchman after the climb at 26.5 kilometers, but he lost ground on the way back down to the finish.

Pantani was fifth, 3:42 behind Ullrich and stayed fifth overall.