However, American Lance Armstrong appears unstoppable in his quest to become the fifth man in history to win as many as four Tours.
Armstrong has kept the overall yellow jersey for the last four days and padded his lead over runnerup Joseba Beloki to four minutes and 21 seconds after Sunday's 14th stage.
Beloki essentially conceded the race in comments to Spanish media.
"From now on, I'll fight for the podium," said Beloki, who has finished third the last two years. "Armstrong is the strongest,o I'm going for second."
Igor Gonzalez Galdeano, who wore the yellow jersey untilArmstrong took over in last Thursday's opening mountain range, is 8:36 back.
France's Richard Virenque captured the 14th stage on Sunday,finishing the grueling 137-mile climb up Mount Ventoux in 5 hours, 43 minutes and 26 seconds. The Frenchman finished 1minute, 58 seconds in front of Russian Alexandre Botcharov andmoved into 10th place in the overall standings.
It was a satisfying win for Virenque, who missed last year's Tour while serving a nine-month suspension due to drug use.
Armstrong finished third in Sunday's stage, 2:20 behind Virenque.
With six stages left, Armstrong is in prime position to ascend to the upper echelon of cycling royalty. He is looking to join France's Jacques Anquetil (1961-64) and Bernard Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985), Belgium's Eddie Merckx (1969-72) and Spain's Miguel Indurain (1991-95) as the only cyclists to winthe great race more than three times.
Armstrong already is recognized as one of the world's most courageous athletes after battling back from life-threateningtesticular cancer to capture the 1999 event. In 2000, he cemented his place among cycling's all-time greats, becoming the first American since three-time champion Greg LeMond (1986,
1989 and 1990) to claim back-to-back titles.
Tuesday's 15th stage is a 140.640-mile trek from
Vaison-la-Romaine to Les-Deux Alpes.
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