with the Tour de France
Thunderclaps greeted the first Alpine duel of the Tour de France yesterday as Switzerland's Alex Zulle brought out the best in Miguel Indurain in a fight to the finish on La Plagne mountain.
Tony Rominger, the Swiss rider who was supposed to be the man to watch, lost four minutes to Indurain, while the other principal threat, the Russian Evgeny Berzin, faded early on, losing more than 17 minutes.
Zuelle's magnificent 60-kilometre (37.5-mile) breakaway, most of it in searing heat and on his own, was a magnificent feat, but it served only to force Indurain to dig deep and prove his mastery yet again.
When Zulle led by almost five minutes going into the final climb, more than 10 miles to La Plagne, Indurain had cause to be worried. The Swiss rider had started the day ninth overall - 4min 29sec behind the Spaniard - and was in a position to take over the race leader's yellow jersey.
Indurain, though, simply dug in, left the mountain specialists trailing, and by the end had closed the gap to 2min 2sec. Now Zulle is Indurain's chief challenger, 2min 20sec behind, with all other contenders virtually out of the picture.
"I had the luck to be in the right group at the right time," Zulle said. "Our manager Manolo Saiz had planned that either myself or Melchor Mauri would attack. Eventually I found I was alone and I told myself I didn't want to lose so I kept pushing hard. I may have lost some strength because of my efforts but it was good for my morale."
The move fired Indurain, who, seeing his yellow jersey in peril, promptly burned off the opposition as he hacked at Zulle's lead to save the colours he wants to keep for a fifth year.
Zulle reached the foot of the 20km climb to La Plagne 4min and 50sec ahead of Indurain making him Tour leader "on the road". It was the red rag that the Spanish bull needed. The temperature was touching 37C (99F), but Indurain forged ahead to split the pack even further.
"It was a great day for me," he said. "The next stage will be difficult, but there is only one way to race and that is by being in the top three each day."
Berzin's 1994 season of great promise was heightened by his defeat of Indurain in the Tour of Italy. Apart from a solo stage win in the same race this year, though, he has not found the same level.
The overnight challenger, Bjarne Riis, had no answer to Indurain's charge. "After he attacked I had some moments of crisis but then I got going again," the Dane said after finishing five and a half minutes behind Indurain. "After that I'm satisfied to be holding third overall."
Hamburger's lone attempt to catch up with Zulle cost him dearly. He trailed into the finish nearly 13 minutes behind, but for many it was an even longer road to La Plagne, with lightning, rain and hail replacing the heat.
Today the 153 survivors face the Tour's classic leg, to L'Alpe d'Huez , a mountain scene set for another solo performance.
TOUR DE FRANCE Ninth stage (Le Grand Bornand to La Plagne, 160km, 100 miles): 1 A Zulle (Swit) (ONCE) 4hr 41min 18sec; 2 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto +2min 2sec; 3 P Tonkov (Rus) Lampre +4:11; 4 M Pantani (It) Carrera +4:37; 5 I Gotti (It) Gewiss Ballan same time; 6 R Virenque (Fr) Festina +6:05; 7 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei GB; 8 C Chiappucci (It) Carrera; 9 P Lanfranchi (It) Brescialat all s/t; 10 L Cubino (Sp) Kelme +6:26; 11 F Escartin (Sp) Mapei GB +6:33; 12 L Dufaux (Swit) Festina +6:42; 13 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE +7:29; 14 A Mejia (Col) Motorola +7:31; 15 H Buenahora (Col) Kelme; 16 L Madouas (Fr) Castorama; 17 G Totschnig (Aut) Polti; 18 M Mauri (Sp) ONCE all s/t; 19 B Riis (Den) Gewiss Ballan +7:37; 20 O Pellicioli (It) Polti +7:52. Selected: 32 E Berzin (Rus) 17:29; 66 M Sciandri (GB) +26:43; 75 S Yates (GB) +32:57.
Leading overall standings: 1 Indurain 37hr 18min 20sec; 2 Zulle +2min 27sec; 3 Riis +5:58; 4 Rominger +6:35; 5 Gotti +6:54; 6 Jalabert +8:14; 7 Mauri +8:17; 8 Tonkov +11:11; 9 Chiappucci +12:32; 10 Escartin +13:06; 11 Pantani +14:02; 12 E Breukink (Neth) ONCE +14:05; 13 Virenque +14:20; 14 Dufaux +14:39; 15 M Rojas (Sp) ONCE +14:50; 16 Mejia +15:36; 17 Madouas +15:47; 18 V Aparicio (Sp) Banesto +16:07; 19 B Thibout (Fr) Castorama +16:14; 20 Lanfranchi +17:41. Selected: 55 Sciandri +40.32; 109 Yates +1:01.50.
Points standings (green jersey): 1 Jalabert 171pts; 2 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) 157; 3 M Cipollini (It) 108; 4 Indurain 100; 5 E Zabel (Ger) 98. King of the Mountains (polka dot jersey): 1 Virenque 111pts; 2 Zulle 102; 3 Indurain 77; 4 B Hamburger (Den) 49; 5 L Dufaux (Swit) 38. Team standings: 1 ONCE 112hr 12min 14sec; 2 Gewiss-Ballan +9min 5sec; 3 Mapei GB +27:08.Reuse content