Chepe skates to front and walks tall

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The Independent Online
There was treachery awheel in the warm lavender-scented air of the Rhone valley as the cry of crevaison (puncture) normally heard from the Tour de France riders came constantly from the publicity caravan.

Decorated vehicles advertising cheese, fruit, and sports shoes, plus official cars and Press vehicles, were parked on the roadside with their drivers changing tyres. Most found nails embedded in their flattened tyres. Then the cavalcade was blockaded by small shop- owners demonstrating against their loss of trade to supermarkets.

The CRS, the French security force, loaded in a small bus, made their way forward to deal with the protesters, but had to walk the last 300 metres when their vehicle had a puncture.

Demonstrators insisted that they were not responsible for the punctures, but Tour organisers filed legal action against the organising union, the Confederation in Defence of Shop- owners and Artisans. In a statement organisers condemned "the cowardly behaviour and malevolence which imperiled the safety of riders and the running of the race. They have acted on the threats they made when we had discussions with them."

Fifty kilometres behind the debacle, the race was going flat out, and arrived in Valence where a Colombian, known to the taxman as Jose Jaime Gonzalez Pico, and to his mates as Chepe, performed more mischief. Launching his elfin 1.67m into winning mode at the inflated arch that marks the final kilometre, he deflated his seven co- leaders.

He crossed the line gesticulating in sheer delight at his first European success. Chepe has twice won the Tour of Colombia but this win will make him an overnight hero back home.

Bjarne Riis was not caught up in any of the disruption, within or around the stage. The Dane retained the yellow jersey, still 40 seconds clear of the Russian Yevgeny Berzin and 53sec ahead of the Swiss Tony Rominger, who injured his right knee in a fall while descending one of the day's many hills.

Even after his victory, nearly three minutes clear of Riis and his rivals, Chepe is still more than an hour and 13 minutes away from the yellow jersey, but walking tall. "It's the most important victory of my life and an enormous surprise," he said. "When I decided to attack I thought the rest will not believe that such a small Colombian would do such a thing."

His mountainous homeland has produced a number of jockey-sized specialists in mountain climbing. Luis Herrera and Fabio Parra led an invasion in the 1980s, and a European team then without a Colombian was indeed out of fashion.

For Britain's Olympic team, the day was not so happy. Max Sciandri quit before the first climb in pain from a damaged muscle in his left knee. "Every time I turned the pedals it got worse and worse. I could not go any further," he said. The British-born Italian will consult a specialist because his next big date, the Olympic road race, is less than three weeks away.

Chris Boardman, the remaining Briton, finished with the main pack, as he rides on into unknown territory. He retired from his first Tour two years ago during the 11th stage.

TOUR DE FRANCE (11th stage, 126miles, Gap to Valence): 1 C Gonzalez (Col) Kelme 5hr 9min 12sec; 2 M F Gines (Sp) Mapei + 1sec; 3 A Elli (It) MG Technogym; 4 L Brochard (Fr) Festina; 5 M Fincato (It) Roslotto; 6 L Roux (Fr) TVM all same time; 7 S Cattai (It) Roslotto at 5secs; 8 L Madouas (Fr) Motorola same time; 9 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom at 2:51; 10 F Baldato (It) MG Technogym; 11 M Fondriest (It) Roslotto; 12 M Bartoli (It) MG Technogym; 13 G Talmant (Fr) Aubervilliers; 14 M Piccoli (It) Brescialat; 15 F Simon (Fr) GAN; 16 P Fornaciari (It) SAECO; 17 A Tchmil (Ukr) Lotto; 18 A Ferrigato (It) Roslotto; 19 S Sunderland (Aus) Lotto; 20 R Virenque (Fr) Festina all same time. Selected: 47 C Boardman (GB) GAN, st. Retired: M Sciandri (GB) Motorola. Overall standings: 1 B Riis (Den) Deutsche Telekom 53hr 11min 26sec; 2 Y Berzin (Rus) Gewiss +40sec; 3 T Rominger (Swi) Mapei +53; 4 A Olano (Sp) Mapei +56; 5 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +1:38; 6 P Luttenberger (Aut) Carrera +2:38; 7 Virenque +3:39; 8 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto +4:38; 9 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +4:49; 10 L Dufaux (Swi) Festina +5:03; 11 P Ugrumov (Lat) Roslotto +5:27; 12 L Leblanc (Fr) Polti 7:08; 13 F Gines +8:14; 14 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE +8:27; 15 U Bolts (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +8:43; 16 A Garmendia (Sp) ONCE +9:07; 17 L Piepoli (It) Refin +10:04; 18 B Hamburger (Den) TVM +10:32; 19 V Ekimov (Rus) Rabobank +11:52; 20 S Cattai (It) Roslotto +15:50. Selected: 34 Boardman +33:14.