Boardman basks in yellow glow

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The Independent Online
Chris Boardman bathed in yellow jersey glory yesterday after winning the curtain-raising time trial to the 84th Tour de France by two seconds. The Briton covered the 7.3km circuit on the streets of Rouen in 8min 20sec to beat the German, Jan Ullrich, who had topped the leader board for nearly two and a half hours. Boardman recaptured the colours of Tour No 1 that he took on his Tour debut three years ago in Lille, and finally laid to rest the haunting memory of a rainy night in Brittany when he crashed out of the 1995 Tour minutes after starting.

His 52.466kph performance was nowhere near his Tour record of 55.152kph, but less than 5km into his ride there was a yellowish glow about the flying Merseysider. He was already two seconds faster than Ullrich, and a second faster than the Russian Yevgeny Berzin who finished third, five seconds slower than Boardman.

"This is a very special day. I don't think I appreciated how important the yellow jersey was when I first won it in 1994," Boardman said. "Believe it or not, I was not happy with my ride. I was very nervous about trying to get 'everything out' in just over seven and a half minutes. I was not aggressive enough at the start and I was uncertain about how to tackle the small hill. Yet I possibly profited from that when I had to ride into a headwind towards the finish."

Boardman relished the moment but was philosophical about how long he could defend the jersey. He said: "With sprinters not so far behind me on time it may only take one sprinter like Mario Cipollini to take it from me the next day."

Boardman was five seconds faster than Swiss pair Alex Zuelle and Tony Rominger, whose world one hour record the Briton eclipsed last year, on a course that took in two bridges over the Seine and passed the 12th century cathedral.

The world time-trial champ-ion, Zuelle, who beat him by two seconds in last year's Tour prologue in Hertogenbosch was riding with his fractured collarbone held together by 12 surgical pins. "I went faster in training than I did in this ride. I made a mistake on the last bend. I braked too much because I was afraid of falling," Zuelle said.

Bjarne Riis, wearing his 1996 yellow jersey as is the tradition, finished 13th, 16 seconds slower than Boardman. On Friday Riis, teammate Ullrich and Spanish rival Abraham Olano had been told they could not ride their time-trial "specials" because the cycles did not conform to the Union Cycliste International rules which deem illegal "anything that reduces resistance and offers artificial acceleration such as a fuselage". The Italian makers Pinarello are now adapting their design to conform for the other Tour time-trials after a pounds 40,000 development programme.

Riis had used his "special" to win a silver medal in the Danish time trial championship, and the Danish Federation claimed that "the rules are not very clear, so it is up to the official at the start to decide". Yet Ullrich had been forbidden to use such a bike in the Tour of Switzerland.

The Tour had earlier honoured another world hour record-holder, Jacques Anquetil, in a ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. The Frenchman set his record, 46.159 km, at Milan 40 years before Boardman covered 56.375km in Manchester.

Anquetil was also one of four men to have won five Tours. The others, Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault, and Eddy Merckx, attended a flower-laying ceremony at Anquetil's tomb in Quincampoix, near Rouen. The village where Anquetil spent his youth is decorated in yellow in preparation for today when the 198 riders pass through on their way to the finish of the 192 km race at Forges-les-Eaux.

It offers the sprinters their first chance to cash in with a special sprint to celebrate the memory of Anquetil. Fiery finishers such as Cipollini, who has already had 14 victories since February, and Belgian champion Tom Steels will be major contenders in the daily cut-and-thrust for the 50,000 francs for the stage-winner.

They have eight days in which to fend off the likes of German Erik Zabel, Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens, and Boardman's French teammate Frederic Moncassin. Then the Tour hits the Pyrenees and the serious quest for the yellow jersey.