Cycling: Battling Boardman returns to form

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The Independent Online
Chris Boardman's new-found confidence about lasting the distance in the Tour de France was underlined when he volunteered to contest the Olympic track pursuit in Atlanta 72 hours after the Tour finishes in Paris on Sunday.

"I was prepared to do it if they wanted me, but obviously they do not," he said after world pursuit champion Graeme Obree's performance in the last World Cup pursuit signalled something was wrong.

"He was 15 seconds slower than the best, and that is a serious chunk of power. The British Cycling Federation are going to let Graeme ride regardless of form, and hope for a miracle. Knowing Graeme, there may be one. It would have meant a hell of a shift around if they had taken up my offer. It was not ideal, but I was prepared to do it, and I reckon that I would have had a damn good chance of winning."

Although he is the Olympic champion, Boardman was content to let Obree represent Britain in the 4,000m event on the Stone Mountain Park track on 24 July. Boardman's target is the inaugural road time-trial on 3 August, which gives him time to recuperate from slogging 3,900km through France.

His patriotic gesture gained momentum when Boardman heard the results of tests to discover the reason for his own loss of power - an intestinal infection is impeding his intake of carbohydrates. "It takes time to get better, but at least I now know what was wrong," he said. "It has shown me why I was OK for the opening time-trial, but then went downhill quickly.

"My form is not super, but now I have become more stable with each day. I am not suffering like I was. It is difficult to suffer each day for 21 days. Now things have stabilised I am confident about reaching Paris," he said. His black day came on the road out of Turin six days ago. "I was in big trouble on a climb," Boardman said, although he only lost just over a minute.

He and 144 others are bracing themselves for a severe test when Miguel Indurain decides to unleash himself. "The race will explode on the climb to Hautacam tomorrow," Boardman said. "Half-minutes and minutes will be lost, but the only day that Indurain can do massive damage is on Wednesday's stage to Pamplona. That is the only real hard day remaining."

Although Indurain is the shy and retiring type, even he can savour the theatrics of such a performance on his homecoming day. Yesterday, however, he had to chase for 55km to wipe out a lead of almost a minute after he and the injured Swiss contender Tony Rominger were left behind by the rest of their rivals. After that, the battle for the yellow jersey mellowed under the hot sun in the verdant Auvergne, and allowed those with energy, ambition and no chance of toppling Bjarne Riis.

The stage to the lace-making town of Tulle fell to Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. In the early 1990s he was the terror of the sprinters, but his potent finish waned. Yesterday, he was back on the podium after breaking clear in the last two kilometres to win by seven seconds from Italy's Mirco Gualdi.

Riis and his entourage arrived four minutes and 53 seconds later, unmoved by the day's events. He is still 56sec clear of the world champion Abraham Olano, of Spain, and the countdown to the Paris finale stands at seven days.

TOUR DE FRANCE 14th stage (Besse to Tulle, 186km) Leading placings: 1 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Refin 4hr 6min 29sec; 2 M Gualdi (It) Polti +7sec; 3 L Madouas (Fr) Motorola +9sec; 4 D Rous (Fr) GAN +16; 5 B Hamburger (Den) TVM +31; 6 T Bourguignon (Fr) Aubervilliers +3min 56sec. Selected: 45 C Boardman (GB) GAN +4:59. Leading overall standings: 1 B Riis (Den) Deutsche Telekom 65hr 11min 40sec; 2 A Olano (Sp) Mapei +56sec; 3 Y Berzin (Rus) Gewiss +1:08 4 Tony Rominger (Swit) Mapei +1:21; 5 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +2:06; 6 P Luttenberger (Aut) Carrera +2:38. Selected: 31 Boardman +33:20.