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  Pantani Holds Lead After Stirring Duel With Ullrich

By Salvatore Zanca
Associated Press
Tuesday, July 28, 1998; 12:42 p.m. EDT

 Marco Pantani (left) follows Jan Ullrich after the two broke away from the pack during the 16th stage Tuesday.
(Jacky Naegelen/Reuters)
ALBERTVILLE, France – Marco Pantani kept the leader's yellow jersey today at the Tour de France after a stirring duel with defending champion Jan Ullrich.

At the end of the 16th stage to Albertville, site of the 1992 Winter Olympics, less than 2 inches separated them. They raced the last 37 miles together with no other cyclists in sight.

The drug scandal that has shadowed the Tour widened today when customs officers found banned drugs in a van driven by the Bigmat team, according to judicial sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Bigmat is now the third team under scrutiny, following the ousted Festina team and the Dutch team TVM.

Two TVM leaders are being investigated and are likely to be charged. They are accused of supplying their riders with the performance-enhancing drug EPO.

Two former Festina cyclists, Emmanuel Magnien and Gilles Bouvard, were released by police today, a day after being held for questioning.

Pantani and Ullrich first raced up most of the 13-mile Madelaine peak. Then they covered the last 24 miles downhill at speeds approaching 60 mph.

Ullrich had lost almost nine minutes to Pantani on Monday and wanted to wanted to cut into the Italian's advantage.

Only on the final flat stretch of more than 6 miles did Pantani share the pace-setting with Ullrich to maintain their lead over the others. In the closing sprint, Ullrich edged Pantani at the line.

Bobby Julich of the United States, who was in second entering the day to Pantani, finished 1 minute, 49 seconds behind to hold second place overall, 14 seconds ahead of Ullrich.

Julich trails by 5:42 in the overall standings with Ullrich at 5:56. At the beginning of the day, he had led Ullrich by 2:03.

Tuesday's stage had five climbs and unlike the wet weather Monday, this stage was run in sunshine nearly the entire 127 miles from Vizille.

Ullrich made a bold move on the final climb, trying to narrow the gap to have a chance in Saturday's time trial. The race ends in Paris on Sunday.

In the last time trial, Ullrich gained 4:21 over Pantani. In last year's final time trial, Ullrich gained nearly four minutes.

France's Stephane Heulot and Germany's Rolf Aldag built a lead of more than six minutes enterng the final climb up the Madelaine peak.

But midway up Ullrich looked around broke away from the small group of favorites. Only Pantani followed.

For the rest of the climb, Ullrich looked straight ahead with Pantani riding just behind the German's back wheel.

By the top they had passed Aldag and Heulot and gained about two minutes on the group that included Julich and Fernando Escartin of Spain, third entering the day.

Wednesday's 17th stage is the last full day in the Alps. The 93-mile leg to Aix les Bains features three climbs but ends with a long downhill.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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