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By Agence France Presse
Frenchman Richard Virenque made certain of winning a record seventh polka-dot jersey as best climber on the Tour de France during Thursday’s 17th stage.
The 34-year-old Quick Step rider last year equaled the record of six victories held jointly by Spaniard Federico Bahamontes and Belgian Lucien Van Impe.
Virenque began the 204.5km stage from Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand with 177 points, ahead of race leader Lance Armstrong (U.S> Postal Service-Berry Floor) with 142 and Italian Ivan Basso (CSC) with 101, and went out on the attack after an hour of racing to take enough points to secure the jersey.
There is only one more day of climbing on the Tour – Friday’s undulating stage, where the points available on the climbs would not be enough for any of his rivals to catch him.
Providing he arrives in Paris on Sunday with the jersey, Virenque – who may retire from the sport soon – will become the most successful climber in Tour history.
“It was a very difficult race for me today,” said Virenque, who finished the stage in 16th place at over 21 minutes behind winner Lance Armstrong.
“I was in front attacking, then caught, then I was away again. I thought briefly about trying to go for the stage win, but that would have been just too much. However I did the essential today, that’s the main thing.
“I’ve had to carry a lot of stress recently, and the new points format (double points on summits of climbs) meant that I had to work extra hard for the jersey, so now I just want to savor it.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do as regards my career, but I know I’ve already left my mark on the Tour de France.”