Riders of their calibre, however, have to enjoy the headiness of the big occasion without resorting to the bubbly. Frederic Moncassin, with a stage win at Den Bosch to his credit, accepted more back-slapping and hand-shaking yesterday despite losing the Tour leader's yellow jersey.
He was unruffled as the colours had only crossed the hotel corridor to his team-mate Stephane Heulot, and Moncassin had something else to celebrate, even if he found himself 3min 45sec off the pace. He was announced yesterday as one of five riders to represent France in the Olympic road events, and his team-mate Didier Rous was also named for Atlanta.
Out on the road, Heulot and four others launched an unexpectedly successful escape after 35km of the 232km (145 miles) from Soissons to Lac de Madine. Heulot, his compatriot Cyril Saugrain, the Dutchman Danny Nelissen, Rolf Jaermann of Switzerland, and Italy's Mariano Piccoli arrived at the lakeside with a lead of 4min 33sec on the overnight leader, Moncassin, and contenders- in-waiting, such as Miguel Indurain.
Ambition was still hot when the main field and riders began sprinting for sixth place, and the spare points left for high finishing, but Jan Svorada's defence of his green points jersey came to grief. He touched wheels and was flung in front of the Frenchman Laurent Brochard, who went head first over the fallen Czech. Bjarne Riis, Denmark's main contender, and Italy's Mauro Bettin also fell in a tangle of men and machines. None was badly hurt.
Heulot was then safe on the podium with an overall lead of 22sec over Italy's Mariano Piccoli. This was further reward for his team manger, Roger Legeay, who ended Heulot's months of waiting for an offer after leaving the Banesto team of Miguel Indurain because he wanted to race for a French team. Heulot's first repayment was victory in the French road race title at Castres nearly two weeks ago.
Yesterday he was looking for points towards the red polka dot jersey of No 1 mountain racer, and found himself instructed instead to race for the yellow one. Heulot had become involved in the kind of "suicide" move that happens daily in the race, and is usually chased down by teams with interests to protect.
Yesterday Moncassin expanded his overnight seven seconds lead on Switzerland's Alex Zulle to 11 with second place at an intermediate sprint, which earned a four-second bonus.
That was before Heulot and company broke to build a lead of 17 minutes in 75 kilometres, but Heulot was not allowed to share in the pace-setting until Legeay had studied the options.
At the finish the smart money was on Nelissen, the last amateur world champion before the sport went open. Saugrain, however, was out to make his first Tour memorable, and he caught the Dutchman off-guard with his sprint.
TOUR DE FRANCE Fourth stage (232km, Soissons to Lac de Madaine): 1 C Saugrain (Fr, Aubervilliers) 5hr 43min 50sec; 2 D Nelissen (Neth, Rabobank); 3 R Jaermann (Swit, MG Technogym); 4 S Heulot (France, GAN); 5 M Piccoli (It, Brescialat) all same time; 6 C Camin (It, Brescialat) +4:33; 7 E Magnin (Fr, Festina); 8 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek, Refin); 9 A Piziks (Lith, Rabobank); 10 F Baldato (It, MG Technogym); 11 F Moncassin (Fr, GAN); 12 M Traversoni (It, Carrera); 13 M Cipollini (It, SAECO); 14 F Simon (Fr, GAN); 15 E Zabel (Ger, Deutsche Telekom); 16 V Fois (It, Panaria); 17 T Rominger (Swit, Mapei); 18 S Ouslamine (Rus, Refin); 19 B Hamburger (Den, TVM); 20 C Vasseur (Fr, GAN) all same time. Selected: 8 Y Berzin (Rus, Gewiss); 106 C Boardman (GB, GAN); 137 M Sciandri (GB, Motorola) all same time. Overall standings: 1 Heulot 22hr 53min 55sec; 2 Piccoli +22sec; 3 Saugrain +34; 4 Jaermann same time; 5 Nelissen +1:35; 6 Moncassin +3:54; 7 A Zulle (Swit, ONCE) +4:05; 8 Berzin +4:08; 9 A Olano (Sp, Mapei) +4:12; 10 B Riis (Den, Deutsche Telekom) +4:16; 11 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto) +4:17; 12 L Jalabert (Fr, ONCE) +4:20; 13 Boardman +4:22; 14 Rominger +4:24; 15 J Svorada (Cz Rep, Panaria) st; 16 M Mauri (Sp, ONCE) +4:26; 17 Cipollini +4:29; 18 E Dekker (Neth, Rabobank) +4:31; 19 M Gualdi (It, Polti) +4:32; 20 P Savoldelli (It, Roslotto) +4:34. Selected: 75 Sciandri +5:12.Reuse content