Bastille Day misery for Boardman

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Chris Boardman was among the casualties when the Tour de France exploded like a Bastille Day firecracker in the mountain mists of the Pyrenees yesterday. The British rider finished the 182 kilometres with two displaced vertebrae after crashing on the descent from the first of four mountains.

Almost 28 minutes after a jubilant Laurent Brochard celebrated the national festival with victory at Loudenvielle, Boardman rode in with a group containing Britain's other hope, Max Sciandri.

After a hospital check, Boardman said he would continue the Tour. "If it had been any other race I would be going home," he said. "I have stressed the back of my neck, and it is difficult to turn my head. Otherwise I don't foresee any problems."

Since his Tour debut three years ago Boardman has been dogged by trouble. In 1995 he crashed minutes into the opening time trial in Brittany, fracturing his ankle and wrist. Then last year he suffered a digestive complaint.

Yesterday as Boardman was approaching team cars behind the main group, there was little visibility in the fog around the Col du Soulor.

"I made the mistake of watching another rider, and suddenly the road turned green," Boardman said. "I rode up a bank then fell into a ditch. I realised that I could not ride 130 kilometres on my own, especially with a mountainous 250 kilometres to race next day, so I waited for a group of riders."

Boardman is now 27 minutes and 54 seconds behind his GAN colleague, Cedric Vasseur, who saved his yellow jersey of Tour leader by 13 seconds. The Frenchman arrived in the finishing straight with thousands of compatriots quietly counting down the time difference between him and the German Jan Ullrich until Vasseur crossed the finish line. Now Ullrich, second last year in his first Tour, is poised for the famous colours. He finished fourth yesterday behind Richard Virenque, of France, and Marco Pantani, of Italy. They were 14 seconds behind Brochard, who fought off all-comers, including the three chasers, to claim the biggest victory of his racing life.

Ullrich was guarding Brochard's team-mate, Virenque, who fired off attacks that eventually shook Bjarne Riis, the 1997 Tour victor, out of a leading group as they tackled the final mountain, the Col d'Aspin.

Riis was not dismayed with the outcome: "It is quite normal for me to have a difficult first stage in the mountains. I had problems on the last climb, and when Virenque attacked I had to let him go. Fortunately Jan [Ullrich] had a superb day. The real Tour is just beginning, and there is still a long way to go."

Boardman had predicted "an explosion" and the human debris was scattered along the Val du Louron with riders finishing more than half an hour after the podium ceremony. Two were eliminated for failing to beat the time limit and five retired.

The test of the day was the Tourmalet, where the road rises to 2,114 metres. Most of its 18 kilometres were covered with encouraging graffiti and fans of all nations, who had camped out overnight. They had come to see the suffering and the courage, and they were not disappointed.

The Tourmalet is one of the "giants" in Tour history. In 1913 Eugene Christophe contributed to the stories surrounding it. He arrived at the top with a massive lead but broke his front forks and had to walk 13 kilometres to St Marie de Campan at the foot of the mountain. There he repaired his forks in the village smithy, but was penalised by an official for accepting "outside help"; a young lad had pumped the forge bellows.

For those who suffer in the Tour, Christophe could be their patron saint. He was the first man to wear the yellow jersey when it was introduced in 1919, but his chance of keeping it vanished when again his forks broke. This time there was no smithy and he lost three hours. In 1922 his forks let him down again, but, undeterred, he raced on using the bike of a parish priest.

TOUR DE FRANCE Ninth stage (182km, Pau to Vallee Louron): 1 L Brochard (Fr) Festina 5hr 24min 57sec; 2 R Virenque (Fr) Festina +14sec; 3 M Pantani (It) Mercatore Uno; 4 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom both same time; 5 J M Jimenez (Sp) Banesto +41; 6 L Dufaux (Swit) Festina; 7 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme; 8 B Riis (Den) Telekom all same time; 9 F Casagrande (It) Saeco +1:07; 10 A Olano (Sp) Banesto; 11 J Laukka (Fin) Festina; 12 R Conti (It) Mercatore Uno all same time; 13 M Beltran (Sp) Banesto +1:26; 14 O Camenzind (Swit) Mapei +2:02; 15 L Madouas (Fr) Lotto +2:24; 16 D Nardello (It) Mapei; 17 B Zberg (Swit) Mercatore Uno all same time; 18 M Fincato (It) Roslotto +2:57.29; 19 P Lino (Fr) Nig Mat Auber 93; 20 C Vasseur (Fr) GAN all same time. Others: 29 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE +5:37; 65 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom +17:08; 80 C Boardman (GB) GAN; 122 M Sciandri (GB) FDJ both +27:57.

Overall standings: 1 Vasseur 47hr 14min 35sec; 2 Ullrich +13 sec; 3 Olano +1:14; 4 Riis+1:43; 5 Virenque +1:43 6 Escartin +2:14; 7 Camenzind +2:27; 8 Dufaux +2:48; 9 Nardello +3:49; 10 Brochard +4:04; 11 Madouas +4:05; 12 Lino +4:09; 13 P Luttenberger (Aut) Rabobank +4:13; 14 J-C Robin (Fr) US Postal Service +4:25; 15 Pantani +4:34.41. Others: 17 Jalabert +5:46; 41 Zabel +15:32; 72 Boardman +27:54; 96 Sciandri +34:53.

Points standings : 1 Zabel 242pts; 2 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN 173; 3 J Blijlevens (Neth) TVM 159; 4 N Minali (It) BAT 121; 5 R McEwen (Aus) Rabobank 112; 6 M Traversoni (It) Mercatore Uno 111; 7 F Simon (Fr) GAN 106; 8 A Baffi (It) US Postal Service 84; 9 F Baldato (It) MAG 76; 10 N Jalabert (Fr) COF 69.

King of the mountains standings: 1 Brochard 110pts; 2 Virenque 100; 3 Ullrich 66; 4 P Herv (Fr) Festina 62; 5 Dufaux 46; 6 J Pascual (Sp) Kelme 40; 7 U Bolts (Ger) Telekom 40; 8 Pantani 38; 9 Casagrande 36, 10 Jimenez 30.

Team standings: 1 Telekom 141hr 48min 4sec; 2 Festina +1:25; 3 Banesto +4:44; 4 Mercatore Uno +6:55; 5 Mapei +13:39; 6 Kelme +15:24; 7 US Postal Service +16:04; 8 Lotto +23:54; 9 Rabobank +24:59, 10 ONCE +25:17.