Berzin takes control

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with the Tour de France

They were running the bulls through Pamplona yesterday, and Miguel Indurain must have wished he was there. Instead he was feeling trampled after Yevgeny Berzin's charge over a mountain road to establish a firm lead.

It was one Russian wheel revolution too many for his rivals as Berzin turned an overnight lead of 16-hundredths of a second into 43 seconds, and hung a question mark over Indurain's chances of that record sixth Tour triumph.

The significance of an Alpine weekend was that uncharacteristically he foundered twice, and is now four minutes and 53 seconds away from the yellow jersey he has worn for 60 days in past Tours.

Yesterday, the Spanish "Goliath" was stunned by a blond Russian "David" whose ride between the village of Bourg-St-Maurice and the ski slopes of Val d'Isere was a minute faster than Indurain.

On Saturday, Indurain faltered because of hunger pangs which reduced sugar levels in the body, and finished more than four minutes behind the winner, the Frenchman Luc Leblanc.

Berzin's rivals now are the Dane Bjarne Riis and Abraham Olano, who beat Indurain for the gold medal in the world time-trial championship in Colombia last year.

Despite his victory, Berzin was realistic. "I did not expect to win by such a margin," he said. "Now I have to control the race, and I'm sure Indurain is not finished. There are still 13 days remaining."

The Indurain camp remained defiant. "What has happened is in the past," Eusebio Unzue, the assistant team manager of Banesto, said. "Now we will have to fight. Miguel was good but not at his best."

Indurain, wearing the red scarf worn by the men who attempt to outrun the bulls in his home town, at first seemed on top of the day's task. He stormed home in 52:54 to knock Chris Boardman from the top of the leader board by 89 seconds.

Then the man whose Tour victories have been based on his time-trialling forte was pushed down to fifth fastest by Berzin, Riis, Olano, and Rominger who clocked the same time as Indurain but had a better set of fractional seconds.

Boardman's 54:23 had been the benchmark but it took a hammering with the German Jan Ullrich and Austria's Peter Luttenberger shoving him down to eighth. It has been a cruel weekend for the Briton. On Saturday's first day in the mountains he suffered, finishing 28:56 after the winner. "I can't think of a worst day on the bike," he said. "However I'm more concerned with getting to Paris than winning a medal in Atlanta.

"I'm still determined to win a stage and finish in the top 20, and now I've lost so much time perhaps I will be allowed the opportunity to get that stage win.

"I was close to tears on Saturday when after getting with the first group I could only watch as they pulled away on a climb."

Then to compound the misery, a sneak thief took his signet ring, watch, and wallet from his bag which a team helper had put in the hotel room to await Boardman's arrival from the race.

He is now 30:44 from the yellow jersey he wore for two days in his 1994 Tour debut, and today he faces another mountainous task.

Boardman and the other 156 survivors of the rain-hit first week tackle the 2,770m Col de l'Iseran followed by the 2,640m Col du Galibier, just to mention two tests, on the road into Italy.

If Indurain is in the doldrums now, he can recall the last time he rode towards the ski town of Sestriere in 1992. Then he almost cracked under the strain of chasing the impish Italian escapee, Claudio Chiappucci.

"That finish is a bad souvenir for me, because I came close to losing the Tour," he recalled. The cause of his problem then, as on Saturday, was failing to take sufficient nourishment.

After all the riders have taken from the weather in the past week, the weather forecast is threatening snow. It could be a blessing in disguise because the organisers may have to cut the Iseran mountain from their route.

TOUR DE FRANCE Eighth stage (19 miles, Bourg-St-Maurice to Val d'Isere): 1 Y Berzin (Rus, Gewis) 51min 53sec; 2 B Riis (Den, Deutsche Telekom) +35sec; 3 A Olano (Sp, Mapei) +45; 4 T Rominger (Swit, Mapei) +1min 1sec; 5 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto s/t); 6 J Ullrich (Ger, Deutsche Telekom) +1:07; 7 P Luttenberger (Aut, Carrera) +1:36; 8 C Boardman (GB, GAN) +2:30; 9 A Zulle (Swit, ONCE +2:36); 10 U Bolts (Ger, Deutsche Telekom) +2:52; 11 L Leblanc (Fr, Polti) +3:09; 12 R Virenque (Fr, Festina) +3:25; 13 A Garmendia (Sp, ONCE) +3:28; 14 L Dufaux (Swit, Festina) +3:31; 15 P Jonker (Aus, ONCE) +3:37; 16 J Bruyneel (Bel, Rabobank) +3:41; 17 P Ugrumov (Lat, Roslotto) +3:45; 18 F Escartin (Sp, Kelme) 3:48; 19 G Guerini (It, Polti) 4:18; 20 M Fernandez Gines (Sp, Mapei) 4:26. GB: 104: M Sciandri (Motorola) +9:12. Overall standings: 1 Berzin 41:39:46; 2 Riis +43sec; 3 Olano +45; 4 Rominger +1min 8sec; 5 Ullrich +1:37; 6 Luttenberger +2:35; 7 Virenque +3:56; 8 Dufaux +4:08; 9 Ugrumov +4:25; 10 Escartin +4:50; 11 Indurain +4:53; 12 Zulle +5:06; 13 Garmendia +6:59; 14 Leblanc +7:27; 15 B Hamburger (Den, TVM) +7:39; 16 Bolts +8:45; 17 V Ekimov (Rus, Rabobank) +9:41; 18 L Piepoli (It, Refin) +9:53; 19 Fernandez Gines +10:17; 20 Bruyneel +10:29. GB: 39 Boardman +30:44; 72 Sciandri +46:55.