Boardman handles with care

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Chris Boardman's chance of a winning return to the Tour de France was snatched away by Alex Zulle of Switzerland in the curtain-raising time trial held yesterday in cold and damp Den Bosch.

Bedraggled Union Jacks were waved fiercely as Boardman clocked in with the first time under 11 minutes around the 9.4km circuit, but his 10min 55sec was beaten by two seconds when Zulle raced in at an average speed of 51.8kph.

The conditions were reminiscent of those in Brittany last year when Boardman crashed out in the first three kilometres of the Tour, fracturing his left ankle and right wrist in the process.

All the riders took care on the eight bends yesterday and Boardman was no exception. "Last year was in my mind most of the time, but the weather was not as bad as then," he said. "I was surprised to do so well considering that I took corners like a touring cyclist. I am disappointed, but it was an all-or-nothing situation. Zulle did not surprise me because he had prepared well and is in great form."

Boardman has always maintained that his primary objective was not to repeat his Tour debut of 1994 when he won the prologue and the yellow jersey. This time he wants to complete the 3,900km of the race and reach Paris in the top 20.

The Russian Yevgeny Berzin was third, three seconds slower than Zulle, with Miguel Indurain, who has won the Tour five times in a row, taking no risks to finish 12 seconds slower than Zulle. Indurain, wearing the yellow jersey as the last winner of the race, now loses the colours to the bespectacled Swiss who has upstaged him in the past.

Four years ago Zulle beat Indurain by five seconds in a 21km time trial. The Spanish racer may lose short, sharp prologues like he did yesterday, but the longer time trials are the basis for his Tour successes.

Zulle has worn the jersey in 1992 and 1993, and last year finished second overall to Indurain. Today he will be wearing the Tour's yellow jersey for the fourth day in his career.

That does not compare with Indurain's tenancy of 60 days and Zulle is aware of the task that faces him. "Miguel has already won five Tours. Twelve seconds is nothing in a race that lasts three weeks. My team will attempt to defend the jersey but it will be tough. Psychologically, it was important to win today. It's only a prologue time trial but it is a test of form."

Max Sciandri, Britain's other hope for success, trails Zulle by 52 seconds as the 197 riders face today's 209km race between Den Bosch and Eindhoven.

In two years' time, the prologue may be held in more familiar streets as Dublin has made a bid to host the beginning of the 1998 Tour de France. The Irish capital is in the running with the Belgian city of Liege, and if successful it will mark the biggest transfer in the race's nomadic life.

"Since we had the offer from Dublin, Liege has asked to be considered, but it is too early to make a decision," Jean-Marie Leblanc the Tour's director- general said yesterday.

Stephen Roche, who gave Ireland its first Tour triumph in 1987, is involved in the negotiations to bring the race to his home city. "There have been positive talks with the Minister for Tourism, and although I cannot say that it is on, we are looking at sites for the start," he said. "However, recently my hopes have been raised. A lot of people would have written it off months ago, but I have been keeping things going in France."