COLMAR, France (AP) _ The riders in the Tour de France tried to crack leader Jan Ullrich on Thursday. Ullrich struggled, but he didn't break.

So, with three days remaining in the Tour, Ullrich leads by 6 minutes, 22 seconds, and is almost certain to become the first German winner, barring a mishap or an accident.

Ullrich retained his commanding advantage despite a 1-2 finish by Festina riders Didier Rous of France and Pascal Herve.

The Festina team, winning its second straight stage, worked hard to detach themselves from Ullrich, who weakened slightly in the rolling hills of eastern France.

``We tried everything to make Ullrich crack, but he didn't fold when he was 30 seconds behind,'' Herve said.

``I thought we were about to shake up the Tour,'' Rous said. ``Ullrich wasn't well. We had 45 seconds on him before the last climb but no one wanted to collaborate.''

Rous had an advantage of more than five minutes over the rest of the field as he broke away from a small group halfway through the 18th stage from Colmar to Montbeliard, 108.7 miles.

Rous felt that other teams would help Festina's efforts to speed up the efforts to leave Ullrioch behind but no one did.

Ullrich faded a little and fell behind. However, each time he needed help from his teammates to guide him back, they were there.

All the Festina riders work for Richard Virenque, the runner-up in the overall standings.

Ullrich, Virenque and the other leaders came in 5:28 behind Rous, who started the day more than two hours behind Ullrich.

American Bobby Julich, who rides for the French team Cofidis, finished third.

There is another stage in eastern France before another time trial around Disneyland Paris on Saturday. When the race ends Sunday, the riders will have completed 21 stages and about 2,455 miles.