CYCLING; Tchmil on song in the rain

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ANDREI TCHMIL, the Belgian veteran, yesterday took the lead of the Paris to Nice race when he overcame bad weather and the Dutch team Rabobank to win the opening stage. Tchmil, 36, outsprinted the Swiss Markus Zberg and the Dutchman Leon Van Bon, second and third respectively.

The Russian-born Tchmil, winner of the notoriously difficult Paris to Roubaix in 1994 and fifth in Sunday's prologue, said he felt at home on the rain-lashed 184.7-kilometre run from Nangis to Sens. He gained a two- second overall advantage over the Australian Stuart O'Grady.

Fourteen riders, including Tchmil, O'Grady, the Belgian Axel Merckx and six members of the Rabobank outfit, broke away with 30km remaining.

Last year's winner and the race favourite, Frank Vandenbroucke, tried hard to join them but the Belgian suffered a puncture and finished two minutes behind.

Richard Virenque, of France, and the American Lance Armstrong fell heavily 55km from the line.