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Ullrich withstands Virenque

Jan Ullrich took on Richard Virenque's team as Virenque staged an all-out offensive for the leader's yellow jersey in the Tour de France.

It was a draw.Ullrich still has the lead by more than six minutes entering the final week of the race.

Virenque, of France, won Sunday's 14th stage, but Ullrich finished in the same time.

Before the stage, Virenque had a team meeting with his Festina squad. He rallied them, asked for help, to supply pacing in Sunday's stage over three major mountains, including two at 6,740 feet or more.

"I asked the team last night to make a big effort to see if we can win the Tour," Virenque said. "I asked for support and do what they can."

It worked - for a while.

Nearly all of the nine members of the Festina team were near the top of the pack at the start of the stage from Bourg d'Oisans to Courchevel, 91.9 miles.

After the first climb, Virenque left with a few teammates from Festina and built an 87-second advantage over Ullrich, of Germany.

However, as Virenque's teammates dropped off one-by-one, Ullrich was gaining with Telekom teammates helping pace him back. Even last year's winner, Bjarne Riis, helped Ullrich return to Virenque.

By the top of the second mountain, the Madeleine, Virenque had just a 20-second margin over Ullrich.

On the downhill, Virenque was caught by the others and it quickly became a two-rider race.

Up the final climb to Courchevel, Virenque and Ullrich were alone against each other with nine miles to go. Both tried brief accelerations, but gave up quickly when the other would respond.

Ullrich stayed close, preferring not to risk anything, especially with a more than six-minute overall lead.

At one point, Virenque asked the German to take over the pace-setting. Ullrich politely refused, saying he didn't want to work for Virenque.

Ullrich said he had a teammate of his own, Riis, about a minute behind and Ullrich wanted to keep Riis close.

In the final stretch, when it looked like Ullrich could go ahead whenever he wanted, Virenque applied a final sprint to stay ahead and Ullrich stayed back.

Fernando Escartin of Spain took third, less than a minute behind.

Third overall now is Riis, 11:06 behind. He came in fifth on the day behind Virenque, Ullrich, Escartin and Laurent Dufaux.

Salt Lake cyclist Marty Jemison finished the stage in 89th place and is 78th overall.

Since last Monday - races of two days in the Pyrenees, a time trial and two days in the Alps - Ullrich has taken two firsts, two seconds and a fourth to put the title virtually out of reach, barring injury or mishap in the final week.

"I'm pleased that I was able to do well in the two big Alps stages," Ullrich said. "I am happy I didn't lose any time to Richard."

There are two more days in the Alps, with four more mountains rated "first category" or "out of category" on a scale measuring height, steepness and difficulty.

There is another time trial around Disneyland Paris on July 26, the day before the race ends on the Champs Elysees.

The riders will have completed 21 stages and 2,455 miles by the time they finish on July 27.