Cycling: Boardman in command

CHRIS BOARDMAN lived up to his fans' expectations by winning yesterday's 4.2-mile time trial stage of the Prutour by a decisive 2.39sec. The pressure was on Boardman, who has been dogged by crashes and moderate form in the last few weeks. But he mastered the difficult seaside course at Southsea to record a time of 8min 15.96sec for an average speed of 24.90mph.

It would have crowned the day for Boardman if he had also taken the red jersey of overall leadership. However, that stayed firmly on the shoulders of the Dutchman Leon Van Bon, whose fourth place on the stage was sufficient to keep him in the red. Boardman's reward was to move into third place overall, just eight seconds down on Van Bon.

The burden of expectation is always on Boardman when he races in Britain and he confessed that at 30 he finds harder than ever to deal with the pressure. "I try not to think about it, and just get on with doing my job," he said.

On a course that offered little protection, riders needed strength and technique to cope with the winds which were whipping off the Channel.

Boardman, last but one of the 96 riders to start, had the time of 8:18.35 set by Van Bon's team-mate Erik Dekker as his target. The Englishman always looked in command, even when a tight U-turn brought him almost to a standstill, and he finished strongly to relegate Dekker to second on the stage

Van Bon was relieved to have fought off the challenge from the US champion George Hincapie, who stayed in second place overall, five seconds in arrears. "Our Rabobank team is the strongest in the world this year and I'm confident I can hang on to the jersey," he said. "But if I should lose it, there's no problem because we have strong riders who can take my place."

Earlier in the day, Boardman had been delayed by a crash in the closing stages of the 112-mile stage 2a from Rochester to Portsmouth. However, as the pile-up occurred in the last kilometre of the race, the rules allowed every affected rider to be given the same time as the main pack.

The New Zealander Julian Dean, of the US Postal team, was the surprise stage winner after opening a 30-metre lead as the race swung through some twists and turns just before turning on to the finishing straight. Today the race tackles 106 miles from Winchester to Bristol, via Cheddar Gorge.

PRUTOUR Second stage, first leg (112 miles, Rochester to Portsmouth): 1 J Dean (NZ) US Postal Service 4hr 38 min 13sec; 2 G Hincapie (US) US Postal Service; 3 L van Bon (Neth) Rabobank; 4 J Sweet (Aus) Bigmat Auber 93; 5 J Silovs (Lat) Home-Jack & Jones; 6 M Gebka (Pol) Mroz; 7 A Bo Andresen (Den) National team; 8 H Pritchard (GB) Men's Health; 9 C Power (Irl) National team; 10 D McKenzie (Aus) Linda McCartney all same time. Second leg (Portsmouth, 4.2 miles time trial): 1 C Boardman (GB) Credit Agricole 8min 15.96sec; 2 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank 8:21.32; 3 J Voigt (Ger) Credit Agricole 8:21.32; 4 Van Bon 08:25.39; 5 M Backstedt (Swe) Credit Agricole 8:27.47; 6 G Hincapie (US) US Postal Services 08:27.53.

Leading overall standings: 1 Van Bon 6hr 18min 09sec; 2 Hincapie 6:18;14; 3 Boardman 6:18;20; 4 Dekker 6:18:23; 5 Voigt 6:18:23; 6 Backstedt 6:18:28. Points: 1 Van Bon 28pts; 2 Hincapie 28; 3 Silvos 23. Mountains: 1 Silovs 7pts; 2 J Winn (GB) Linda McCartney 7; 3 M Stephens (GB) Harrods-Sixt 6. Sprints: 1 C Lillywhite (GB) Linda McCartney 13pts; 2 Van Bon 10; 3 Hincapie 8. Team: 1 Credit Agricole 18:55:09; 2 Rabobank 18:55:17; 3 US Postal Service 18:55:47.

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