Miguel Indurain has 4min 38sec to wipe out if he is to triumph in Paris on Sunday for a record sixth time in as many years.
Riis, 56 seconds clear of the second-placed Abraham Olano, sets the scene for today's prelude to the Pyrenees. "Perhaps this is the key moment of the Tour," the Dane said after a week in the famous colours.
"It certainly will be most important that my form is the best I have had in my career. I just hope that I fare well because I do believe that I can win in Paris."
Indurain remains coolly confident, which is not easy in temperatures rising above 30C and especially after his off-day in the Alps. "I am not finished yet," he said, knowing that the final 13 of today's 199 kilometres rise nastily to 1,560 metres on the Hautacam mountain overlooking Lourdes.
It is a slog of eight per cent where the heavyweights such as Riis and Indurain may struggle against the livelier lightweights such as the Russian Yevgeny Berzin. It is the first test of strength. Wednesday's stage into Spain covers five mountains. Yesterday, however, gave new hope to Italy's Massimo Podenzana who raced into Villeneuve-sur-Lot 37 seconds clear for his first Tour victory.
"I was thinking of retiring but maybe I will give it another year," he said. Podenzana celebrates his 35th birthday a week after the Tour finishes. He only signed for Carrera a week before the Tour started, and before yesterday's joy his career highlights were nine days as leader of the 1988 Tour of Italy and, this year, winning the Italian road race title for a third time.
When he sprinted away from his five co-leaders each invited the others to take up the chase, but their dithering left it too late. Once Australia's Neil Stephens began the pursuit their chances looked promising. Then he took a roundabout too fast and finished in a heap with a broken bike.
As Podenzana finished with an average speed of nearly 45kph the chase broke up completely behind him, but the six who at one time led by more than nine and a half minutes still had plenty in hand over the pack.
TOUR DE FRANCE 15th Stage (109 miles, Brive-la-Gaillarde to Villeneuve- sur-Lot): 1 M Podenzana (It) Carrera 3hr 54min 52sec; 2 G Guerini (It) Polti +37sec; 3 P Van Petegem (Bel) TVM +50; 4 M Bartoli (It) MG same time; 5 F Lemarchand (Fr) Gan +1:16; 6 N Stephens (Aus) Once +1:41; 7 F Moncassin (Fr) Gan +5:38; 8 F Baldato (It) MG; 9 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom; 10 A Ferrigato (It) Roslotto; 11 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Refin; 12 I Cerioli (It) Gewiss; 13 G Talmant (Fr) Aubervilliers 93; 14 T Gouvenou (Fr) Aubervilliers 93; 15 F Simon (Fr) Gan; 16 P Fornaciari (It) Saeco; 17 A Tchmil (Ukr) Lotto; 18 A Baronti (It) Panaria; 19 J-C Colotti (Fr) Agriel; 20 J-L Masoupuy (Fr) Agriel all same time. Selected: 44 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei; 79 C Boardman (GB) Gan; 88 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto, all same time. Overall standings: 1 B Riis (Den) Deutsche Telekom 69hr 12min 10sec; 2 A Olano (Sp) Mapei +56sec; 3 Y Berzin (Rus) Gewiss +1:08; 4 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei +1:21; 5 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +2:06; 6 P Luttenberger (Aut) Carrera +2:38; 7 R Virenque (Fr) Festina +3:16; 8 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto +4:38; 9 L Dufaux (Swit) Festina +5:03; 10 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +5:17; 11 P Ugrumov (Rus) Roslotto +5:55; 12 B Hamburger (Den) TVM +6:38; 13 L Leblanc (Fr) Polti +6:47; 14 Bolts (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +9:11; 15 M Fernandez Gines (Sp) Mapei +9:31; 16 L Piepoli (It) Refin +10:04; 17 A Zulle (Swit) Once +11:45; 18 A Garmendia (Sp) Once +12:25; 19 V Ekimov (Rus) Rabobank +15:10; 20 S Cattai (It) Roslotto +18:03. Selected: 31 C Boardman (GB) Gan +33:20. King of the Mountains: 1 Virenque 224pts; 2 Riis 133; 3 L Brochard (Fr) Festina 111; 4 Leblanc 108; 5 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei 107. Points: 1 Zabel 259; 2 Moncassin 208; 3 Baldato 188; 4 Abdoujaarov 149; 5 Blijlevens 121.Reuse content