Cycling: Lino whips up French fever

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THE French call it the 'yellow fever' and it is spreading again through the Tour de France. Miguel Indurain sent Spain delirious with joy when he pulled on the yellow jersey of race leader four days ago. Switzerland's Alex Zuelle had the famous colours for a day, and now the French are getting feverish.

Seventy-three years after Eugene Christophe wore the first yellow jersey awarded in the Tour de France, another Frenchman, Pascal Lino, became the 196th rider to don the colours and the fourth rider to wear the jersey since the 1992 race began in San Sebastian on Saturday.

On paper, the third stage should have been as flat as the 218 kilometres between Pau and Bordeaux, but Noel Segers of Belgium was determined to break the monotony. His lone attack prompted a chase by a group that included Lino, who had started the day 5min 6sec behind the race leader, Richard Virenque, his RMO team-mate.

That was halfway through the stage. By the finish Lino was the new leader by 1min 54sec from Virenque. None of this disturbed the major contenders, who have a firm hold on the reins even if a few colts are allowed their heads.

It was RMO's second yellow jersey in two days after seven years of trying, and could help to keep the team on the road. Their Tour successes may attract a prospective backer to share a 20m French franc ( pounds 2.1m) sponsorship with the French employment company. Otherwise they could all be looking for new jobs, but for now Lino is temping as a Tour leader.

'To spend a few days in the jersey will be great, but the big names will be out to take it back in Monday's time trial in Luxembourg,' said Lino, who puts the birth of his daughter before the yellow jersey as his 'greatest day'.

He finished fourth at Bordeaux, where the Dutchman Rob Harmeling quashed a late victory burst by Australia's Allan Peiper over the final 300 metres. Before yesterday, Harmeling's only claim to fame was that he was the lanterne rouge (last man) in the 1991 Tour.

He became so frustrated at being introduced to race crowds as the man who finished last that he raced hard to prove that he was not the 'joker in the pack'. So hard in fact, that he spent two and a half months out of the saddle through exhaustion.

Bordeaux is not just famous for its wines. It is noted for Dutch Tour wins, and Harmeling's triumph came 12 years after the victory of his team manager, Cees Priem. Harmeling's was the sixth for his nation in that period.

While Indurain and the other major contenders hover in the wings, the fatigue of Greg LeMond is being watched with interest. He is hanging in, 32 seconds behind Indurain, but his lack of zip so far on the climbs may hint at another uphill struggle.

The Tour has never shown mercy. Christophe was the first to wear a yellow jersey, and suffer. In 1919 he had to walk 14 kilometres to a village smithy when his forks broke in the Pyrenees. He was allowed to repair them, watched by officials, but for permitting a lad to operate the fire bellows was penalised three minutes for receiving outside assistance. It cost him the lead.

TOUR DE FRANCE Third stage (218km, Pau to Bordeaux): 1 R Harmeling (TVM, Neth) 5hr 45min 17sec; 2 S Moreels (Lotto, Bel); 3 M Ghirotto (Carrera, It); 4 P Lino (RMO, Fr); 5 J Simon (Z, Fr); 6 M Kokkelkoren (Buckler, Neth); 7 E van Lancker (Panasonic, Bel); 8 N Segers (Buckler, Bel) all same time; 9 A Peiper (Tulip, Aus) +5sec; 10 G de Vries (Buckler, Neth) +21; 11 J Museeuw (Lotto, Bel) +7min 00sec; 12 A van der Poel (Tulip, Neth); 13 O Ludwig (Panasonic, Ger); 14 S Lilholt (Tulip, Den); 15 L Jalabert (ONCE, Fr) all s/t. Selected: 21 S Kelly (Festina, Irl) +7:00; 34 M Indurain (Banesto, Sp); 37 G Bugno (Gatorade, It); 39 C Chiappucci (Carrera, It); 61 G LeMond (Z, US); 92 S Roche (Carrera, Irl); 145 R Millar (TVM, GB); 166 M Earley (PDM, Irl); 181 S Yates (Motorola, GB) all s/t.

Overall: 1 Lino 17hr 19min 51sec; 2 R Virenque (RMO, Fr) +1min 54sec; 3 Indurain +6:28; 4 Bugno +6:30; 5 D Arnould (Castorama, Fr) +6:44; 6 R Alcala (PDM, Mex) +6:58; 7 Chiappucci s/t; 8 C Mottet (RMO, Fr) +6:59; 9 E Breukink (PDM, Neth) +7:00; 10 LeMond s/t; 11 M Sciandri (Motorola, It) +7:05; 12 Roche +7:06; 13 J Skibby (TVM, Den) s/t; 14 S Bauer (Motorola, Can) +7:09; 15 A Leanizbarrutia (CLAS, Sp) s/t. Selected: 31 Kelly +7:25; 34 Millar +7:26; 73 Earley +14:59; 147 Yates +27:28.

(Maps omitted)