Cycle / Tour de France: Stage win a giant leap for Skibby: Cipollini wins battle of the sprinters but Nelissen regains yellow jersey for Belgium

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The Independent Online
THE NORMANS appreciated the return of a Viking in the Tour de France here yesterday as Jesper Skibby, near to death four months ago, made a dream come true with his first stage victory.

The sweeping countryside of Normandy, a land that has suffered and risen again many times through the centuries, was the setting for a lump-in-the- throat triumph for Denmark.

Skibby lay in hospital in March with a double fracture of the skull, and fears for his life because of blood clotting, after a crash in the Tirreno-Adriatico race in Italy. Only three weeks ago he returned to racing, and in a dramatic late jump for victory he scraped home by one second.

'This stage was made for a Dane,' Skibby said. 'In the final kilometres it becomes much harder, but I have many to thank for helping realise my dream to win a Tour stage. There are my team-mates who worked hard for me in the last four kilometres, and my father, Willy, who has done much to bring me back to my best. After my accident it was very hard, and I was at zero when I got back on my bike.'

Willy, too, knows the elation of international success. In 1966 he was third in the world amateur road race championship at Nurburgring behind Britain's Les West and the Dutch winner, Evert Dolman. Jesper's sister, Karina, has also raced in world- class competition.

It was the 29-year-old Skibby's first Tour de France success since his professional debut in 1986. 'Now I've reached my goal of winning stages in the three big tours,' said Skibby, who had a stage win in the Tour of Italy in 1989 and the Tour of Spain in 1991.

Wilfried Nelissen also enjoyed a return to the top yesterday. Displaced as the Tour leader by Mario Cipollini the previous day, the Belgian was placed second to earn a deduction of 12 seconds and regain the yellow jersey.

'My life has changed, and I feel as though I am on a cloud,' Nelissen said. 'Each day there are letters of encouragement and phone calls at my home.'

The battle for the colours began after the first 17 of the 225 kilometres (140.9 miles) of the fifth stage from Avranches. The Italian Cipollini took the fight to Nelissen by winning an intermediate sprint and a time deduction of six seconds, with the Belgian second.

They disputed the next with Cipollini second but still beating Nelissen. His overnight lead increased by four seconds to 10, but there was a new danger ahead as the Dane, Bjarne Riis, made a solo breakaway and went into the lead temporarily.

Riis, only 2min 17sec in arrears, pulled out a 6:50 lead after 80 kilometres, but once the counter-attacking began it was like so many other 'Tour leader on the road' gambits, a waste of energy. A move by 14 riders offered a greater threat with the twice-Tour winner, Laurent Fignon, forcing a fierce pace and dreaming of past glories.

It was was all over nine kilometres from the ancient town of Evreux, where Charles the Bad besieged John the Good in 1356, and Richard the Lionheart ordered a massacre. Yesterday it was the turn of Jesper the valiant.

The battle of the sprinters had earlier been overshadowed by a crash involving the race favourite, Miguel Indurain. The Basque, however, dismissed the incident, saying: 'I fell when I was going slowly, it was nothing serious. I just grazed my left elbow and thigh a bit.'

Another to fall was the Uzbekistan sprinter, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, renowned for his wild riding, after colliding with a motorcycle.

TOUR DE FRANCE Fifth stage (225.5km, 140.9 miles, Avranches to Evreux): 1 J Skibby (Den, TVM) 5hr 11min 57sec; 2 W Nelissen (Bel, Novemail) +1sec; 3 A Ferrigato (It, Ariostea); 4 M Sciandri (It, Motorola); 5 S Colage (It, ZG Mobili); 6 O Ludwig (Ger, Telekom); 7 M Cipollini (It, GB MG); 8 D Cassani (It, Ariostea) 9 T Rominger (Swit, Clas); 10 L Jalabert (Fr, Once); 11 F Simon (Fr, Castorama); 12 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto); 13 J van der Laer (Bel, Lotto) 14 M Ghirotto (It, ZG Mobili); 15 G Fidanza (It, Gatorade) all same time. Selected: 17 G Bugno (It, Gatorade) +1; 19 C Chiappucci (It, Carrera); 33 A Zulle (Swit, Once); 37 S Roche (Irl, Carrera); 57 R Millar (GB, TVM); 67 S Yates (GB, Motorola) all s/t.

Overall: 1 Nelissen 22hr 9min 37sec; 2 Cipollini +2sec; 3 Jalabert +32; 4 Zulle +33; 5 Z Jaskula (Pol, GB MG) +41; 6 J Bruyneel (Bel, Once) +51; 7 E Breukink (Neth, Once) s/t; 8 P Louviot (Fr, Once) +1min 04sec; 9 J Museeuw (Bel, GB MG) +1:10; 10 F Ballerini (It, GB MG) +1:17; 11 S Bauer (Can, Motorola) +1:19; 12 C Mottet (Fr, Novemail) +1:21; 13 A Hampsten (US, Motorola) +1:22; 14 R Sorensen (Den, Carrera) +1:25; 15 L Armstrong (US, Motorola) +1:27. Selected: 16 Chiappucci +1:27; 21 Roche +1:31; 23 Indurain +1:38; 27 Yates +1:49; 31 Bugno +1:59; 80 Millar +3:31; 98 Rominger +4:40.

King of the Mountains leader: Cassani. Points leader: Nelissen.

(Photograph and maps omitted)