Cipollini rides high on the longest day

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The longest day in Normandy ended with the inevitable victory for Mario Cipollini, pushing his Tour de France lead to 36 seconds over Chris Boardman after a slog through the land of Calvados.

The Italian's potent charge for the chequered flag brought him from eighth to the front as his challengers faded around him, to take the 20 seconds victory bonus to add to the six-seconds deduction he earned for winning an intermediate sprint.

First, Boardman's men tried to set the stage for their sprinter Frederic Moncassin. Then, Erik Zabel hit the front only to take second as the hefty thighs of the Tuscan pumped out another last-gasp victory with the Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens hanging on for third place.

"To win a sprint like I did today is an unbelievable feeling. It's impossible to feel such a strong emotion in the mountains or in time trials," he said. "It is short but it is intense."

"It was a dangerous sprint but it was great. I had the luck and I also had the legs. I want to keep the jersey as long as I can, but I am happy even if I do lose it," said Cipollini, who is having second thoughts over his plan for this season to race the three major tours of Italy, France, and Spain.

He already has five victories and the points jersey from the Giro d'Italia, and is heading for his longest spell in the Tour leader's yellow jersey. In 1993, he wore it for two days, but he has not gone the distance in his previous four Tours.

"It was intended that I should pull out of the Tour after 10 days because I also have the Vuelta a Espana in my programme. Because the Tour is such a big race, I would like to complete it in Paris, so I may ask my manager if I can skip the Vuelta."

The day featured a gallant ride by Thierry Gouvenou towards Vire, his birthplace and the finish of the longest stage, 262 kilometres from the Channel resort of St Valery-en-Caux.

His dream ended when, after a solo ride of 110km along roads as straight as any Roman would wish, Gouvenou found a trou Normand without needing a draught of the local liquor that is claimed to create space in a full stomach.

His hole came as the tiring home boy fought to stay in contact with the main field, and he lost 8min 20sec after once leading by more than four minutes.

Cipollini, dressed overall in yellow, and facing another fine of 200 Swiss francs (pounds 80) for not wearing his team's official black shorts, was already being acclaimed on the podium when the shattered Norman trundled in.

He had raced alone through towns whose English "twins" were as diverse as Henley-on-Thames, Chipping Camden, and Ross-on-Wye until an attack by Alex Zulle brought down the curtain 25km from the finish.

It was a brave effort to delight the home fans with their "Allez Gouvenou" banners, and nowhere near as suicidal as the sport of bungee-jumping, for which Vire is No 1 in Europe.

They can blame its introduction on a New Zealander, A J Hackett, who developed a leisure holiday centre near the town after bungee-ing from the nearby Viaduct de la Souleuvre.

Not exactly what its builder, Gustave Eiffel, of Tower fame, had in mind for his rail bridge.

TOUR DE FRANCE Second stage, 262km from Saint-Valery-en-Caux to Vire: 1 M Cipollini (It) SAE 6hr 27min 47sec (average 40,538kmh); 2 E Zabel (Ger) TEL; 3 J Blijlevens (Neth) TVM; 4 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN; 5 S Outschakov (Ukr) PLT; 6 A Baffi (It) USP; 7 C Lamour (Fr) MUT; 8 H Vogels (Aus) GAN; 9 R McEwen (Aus) RAB; 10 M Strazzer (It) ROS; 11 M Traversoni (It) MER; 12 F Baldato (It) MAG; 13 D Etxebarria (Sp) ONC; 14 A Gontchenkov (Rus) ROS; 15 D Abdoujaparov (Uzb) LOT; 16 F Simon (Fr) GAN; 17 C Rinero (Fr) COF; 18 J Planckaert (Bel) LOT; 19 R Aldag (Ger) TEL; 20 L Aus (Est) CSO all same time. Selected: 34 R Virenque (Fr); 38 J Ullrich (Ger); 56 C Boardman (GB) GAN; 75 L Jalabert (Fr); 79 B Riis (Den) TEL; 137 M Pantani (It) MER; 176 M Sciandri (GB) FDJ, all same time.

Overall standings: 1 M Cipollini (It) SAE 11hr 15min 30sec; 2 C Boardman (GB) GAN at 0:36; 3 J Ullrich (Ger) TEL, +0:38; 4 T Rominger (Swit) COF, +0:41; 5 A Olano (Sp) BAN, +0:46; 6 L Jalabert (Fr) ONC, +0:48; 7 J Blijlevens (Ned) TVM, same time; 8 E Zabel (Ger) TEL, +0:49; 9 T Steels (Bel) MAP, +0:50; 10 S Knaven (Ned) TVM, +0:51; 11 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN, +0:52; 12 E Dekker (Neth) RAB, +0:53; 13 O Camenzind, (Swit,) MAP, st; 14 F Vandenbroucke (Bel) MAP, 0:54; 15 J Heppner (Ger) TEL, 0:55; 16 F Andreu (USA) COF, st; 17 A Kasputis (Lit) CSO, 0:57; 18 A Baffi (It) USP, 0:58; 19 D Nelissen (Ned) RAB, 1:00; 20 P Lino (Fr) BIG, 1:01. Selected: 46 Virenque, +1:20; 64 Riis, +1:49; 79 M Sciandri (GB) FDJ, +2:03; 90 M Pantani (It) MER, +2:13

Points: 1 Cipollini, 84; 2 E Zabel (Ger) TEL, 54; 3 Moncassin, 54; 4 Blijlevens, 50; 5 R McEwen (Aus) RAB, 39

King of the mountains: 1 L Brochard (Fr) FES, 18pts; 2 C Saugrain (Fr) COF, 11; 3 A Kasputis (Lit) CSO, 10; 4 F Simon (Fr) GAN, 6; 5 T Gouvenou (Fr) BIG, 5.

Teams: 1 Telekom 33hr 48min 54sec; 2 Cofidis, +00:09; 3 Rabobank, st; 4 GAN, +00:16; 5 US Postal Service, +00:18; 6 Mapei, +00:20; 7 Batik, +00:30; 8 TVM, st; 9 Banesto, +00:36; 10 MG, +00:39.