Cycling: Jalabert's brave Bastille Day battle

ROBIN NICHOLL with the Tour de France
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The Independent Online
Laurent Jalabert produced a firecracker finish to the Bastille Day celebrations with a French victory as the Tour de France wheeled through the volcanic region of Lozere.

For a time Jalabert was race leader "on the road" in a breakaway which for him lasted all but 24 of the 222 kilometres from St Etienne.

Twice in the past two weeks he had earned the leader's yellow jersey through hard graft, using his sprinting skills to snap up time bonuses at intermediate sprints. Yesterday he took an even harder route by setting the pace over a switchback course in torrid conditions.

With his team-mates, Neil Stephens (Australia) and Melchor Mauri (Spain), he and the Italians, Massimo Podenzana, Dario Bottaro and Andrea Peron, pushed their lead to a maximum 10 minutes and 50 seconds.

Then he broke clear of his co-leaders on the five-kilometre climb to the plateau finish at Mende aerodrome, five minutes and 41 seconds clear of Miguel Indurain who had regained the yellow jersey.

Jalabert rose from eighth to third overall to set the Tricolors waving, and the crowds chant-ing: "Ja-Ja-Jalabert".

"I felt I had to erase the bad memories of last year," he said, recalling the second-day Tour crash in the finishing sprint where he broke his jaw. "Once you have scored a great victory you don't feel afraid of anything."

He forfeited the Tour lead in a first-week crash at Le Havre. "I lost nine minutes during this Tour, but I did not give them away," he said.

Unlike the Beast of Gevaudan, a giant wolf said to have preyed on the district's weak in the 18th century, Indurain used his monstrous power to take the heat out of the Jalabert menace.

He had limited Alex Zulle on La Plagne mountain, reduced Marco Pantani's time on Alpe d'Huez, and yesterday on the road to the aerodrome he took off to flatten any more threats. Pantani slipped away again but found Indurain and the Dane, Bjarne Riis, too strong in the final kilometre as they drew him back.

Jalabert's escape and the subsequent arrival of Mauri and Stephens, his ONCE team-mates, did not disturb the calm among Indurain's Banesto riders. So the Frenchman harvested points towards his green jersey of most consistent finisher and time deductions that lifted him into the top three.

By the time the race reached Le Puy-en-Velay where 213 cannons captured at Sebastopol had been moulded into a massive statue of Our Lady, Jalabert and company were well on their way to a 10-minute advantage, and his brief spell in the yellow jersey.

Once it dropped to 9min16sec Indurain was assured of another jersey for the washing line with Jalabert in a similarly strong position in the skirmishing for the green jersey. Today the race heads into the Tarn, Jalabert's home region, and then on towards the Pyrenees, and more suffering.

TOUR DE FRANCE Stage 12 (St Etienne to Mende, 222.4km, 138.8 miles): 1 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE 5hr 19min 5sec; 2 M Podenzana (It) Brescialat +29sec; 3 D Bottaro (It) Gewiss-Ballan +42; 4 M Mauri (Sp) ONCE +48; 5 A Peron (It) Motorola +1:30; 6 M Pantani (It) Carrera +5:41; 7 B Riis (Den) Gewiss- Ballan, 8 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto both same time; 9 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE +5:58; 10 L Brochard (Fr) Festina same time; 11 I Gotti (It) Gewiss-Ballan +6:18; 12 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei GB, 13 F Escartin (Sp) Mapei GB both same time; 14 L Cubino (Sp) Kelme +6:30; 15 C Chiappucci (It) Carrera; 16 P Lanfranchi (It) Brescialat; 17 J Bruyneel (Bel) ONCE; 18 R Virenque (Fr) Festina all same time; 19 A Gonzales (Sp) Mapei GB +6:46; 20 L Madouas (Fra) Castorama same time. GB: 50 M Sciandri MG Technogym +10:07; 127 S Yates Motorola 21:14.

Leading overall standings: 1 Indurain 52hr 46min 51sec; 2 Zulle +2min 44sec; 3 Jalabert +3:35; 4 Riis +6:00; 5 Mauri +7:56; 6 Rominger +8:56; 7 Gotti +8:57; 8 Pantani +12:38; 9 Escartin +14:20; 10 Chiappucci +14:59; 11 Virenque +16:35; 12 Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Lampre +16:36; 13 Madouas 17:22; 14 E Breukink (Neth) ONCE +18:54; 15 L Dufaux (Swit) Festina +19:43; 16 Lanfranchi +20:08; 17 Bruyneel +20:58; 18 A Mejia (Col) Motorola +21:42; 19 M Rojas (Sp) ONCE +25:35; 20 Cubino 27:01. GB: 48 Sciandri +58:35; 92 Yates +1hr 48min 21sec.

Points classification: 1 Jalabert 237 pts; 2 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Novell 182; 3 Indurain 130. King of the mountains: 1 Virenque 217pts;2 Zulle 150; 3 Indurain 124. Leading overall team standings: 1 ONCE 158hr 27min 14sec; 2 Gewiss-Ballan +29min 36sec; 3 Mapei GB +43:23.