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Armstrong demolishes rivals again

Lance Armstrong is one day away from making Tour de France history with his sixth race victory

BESANCON, France -- Lance Armstrong all but sealed his record sixth Tour de France victory when he outclassed the field on the penultimate 19th stage 55km time trial.

Only a disaster in the 163km final stage to Paris will stop the American from eclipsing five times Tour champions Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.

The Texan clocked one hour, six minutes and 49 seconds in the flat countryside around Besancon to win his fifth individual stage of this year's Tour after he blew away his competitors in the mountains, winning four stages and coming second in the fifth.

His U.S. Postal team also won the team time trial in the first week.

It was also his seventh victory in an individual time trial since winning his first Tour in 1999.

"I'm really glad it's almost over. I'm tired in the head, the legs and all over," said Armstrong. "I long to see the Champs Elysees. It's always a special feeling, not only for me but for the whole of the peloton."

German Jan Ullrich was second, just over a minute behind Armstrong in 1:07.50, while Ullrich's T-Mobile team mate Andreas Kloeden was third in 1:08.16, though he nipped Italian Ivan Basso for second place overall.

Basso, who is not a time trial specialist, finished sixth on Saturday, almost three minutes behind Armstrong, and is now third overall, 21 seconds behind Kloeden.

Kloeden is 6:38 behind Armstrong, a virtually impossible gap to bridge in the last day's ride to Paris.

Ullrich, the 1997 champion and five times runner-up is now almost likely to miss out on a podium finish for the first time in his seven Tours as he is fourth, 9:09 behind Armstrong, but 2:10 behind Basso.

Armstrong's U.S. Postal team-mates showed they were hardly tired despite the constant efforts made to help their leader since the start three weeks ago.

American Floyd Landis finished fourth, Spaniard Jose Luis Rubiera was ninth, Portugal's Jose Azevedo 10th and American George Hincapie 11th, a remarkable collective performance.

While Armstrong was virtually sealing the yellow jersey, Russia's Vladimir Karpets finished eighth to seize control of the young rider's white jersey from Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, who led the Tour for 11 days before bowing to Armstrong.

Voeckler finished more than six minutes behind Karpets to slip to third in the white jersey classification, behind compatriot Sandy Casar.

T-Mobile should win the team classification on Sunday, with a 2:04 lead over U.S. Postal, though it must be meagre consolation for Kloeden and Ullrich.

The points classification's green jersey is likely to be decided on the Champs Elysees with Australian Robbie McEwen on 238 points, nine ahead of Norway's Thor Hushovd, while Germany's Erik Zabel is a further six back.

France's Richard Virenque sealed a record seventh King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey on Thursday.

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