Cycling: Tour de France - Boardman deprived of yellow

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The Independent Online
Cycling's great showman, Mario Cipollini, stole the yellow jersey from Chris Boardman as the Tour de France raced through sunny Normandy.

It was an inevitable eviction for Boardman. After feeling the power and the glory of the famous colours for less than 24 hours his advantage of two seconds was gone in a blink.

Boardman was beginning to chase down the breakaway leaders when a huge pile-up involving the group Boardman was in brought the race to a temporary halt nine miles from the finish. The disappointed former Olympic champion locked himself in the GAN team bus afterwards, barely able to conceal his misery at losing the leader's jersey after just 24 hours.

"Cipollini's in fantastic form and there was simply nothing I could do about it when he went away," Boardman said. "At the end of the day I have lost my jersey but I am still in the race.

The Italian, whose favourite nickname is Lion King, roared over the finish line here, his threshing legs wrapped in Stars and Stripes shorts, with the Belgian Tom Steels and Boardman's team-mate, the Frenchman, Frederic Moncassin, in his wake.

"I knew it would be hard if not impossible to keep the jersey," Boardman said. "I stayed ahead and out of trouble. So much so that I did not realise there had been a crash."

Even so Boardman is second only 10 seconds behind the Italian with Jan Ullrich, the German who was second in last year's Tour, in third, 12 seconds adrift.

In 1994 Boardman's tenancy lasted three days, but with Cipollini waiting to pounce it was just a matter of time. Eighteen seconds to be precise - and the Tuscan trimmed that deficit by six seconds via a time deduction gained in an intermediate sprint at Quincampoix, the resting place of Jacques Anquetil, five times winner of the Tour.

Cipollini snapped up two more seconds at the next intermediate sprint where the Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens took the maximum to close his overnight gap of 30 seconds.

His powerful sprinting, which gave him five wins in last month's Giro d'Italia, yesterday produced the 112th win of his eight professional years.

Cipollini starts his second spell in the jersey he last held for two days in 1993 with another of his fashion statements. He will dress totally in yellow with bike to match for the Tour's longest day, 262km [163 miles] from St Valery-en-Caux to Vire.

In the Giro he wore all pink for his time in the leader's colours, and then mauve for the top points scorer. Not so fashion-conscious officials fined him for not wearing the black shorts of his team livery.

Yesterday's Stars and Stripes shorts were in recognition of the American makers of his team's bikes. The fluffy lion toy, the symbol of the sponsoring bank, that is presented to each yellow jersey holder is sure to finish in the cot of Lucrezia, Cipollini's month-old daughter.

Boardman also had good reasons for keeping his lion toy safe. "I needed another for Oscar," he said. His 1994 spell in the jersey earned three visits to the podium and lions for his other three children.

Oscar was born in 1995 when Boardman lay in hospital with a fractured wrist and ankle after crashing while trying to win another yellow jersey.

Boardman had lived a personal hell throughout the week before the Tour, analysing and worrying about his build-up. A year's work for less than nine minutes of effort to win a jersey.

"Believe it or not, I was not happy with my ride," he said of the prologue. "I was very nervous about trying to get `everything out'. I was not aggressive enough at the start and I was uncertain about how to tackle the small hill. Yet I possibly profited from that when I had to ride into a headwind towards the finish."

Boardman was the target yesterday: first for the fans at the Rouen start, then the sprinters during the 192km stage. A breakaway lasting almost 100 kilometres made Blijlevens' team-mate, Servais Knaven, leader on the road until it was chased down by Cipollini's men.

Knaven was only 21 seconds slower than Boardman in the time trial in Rouen on Saturday, and once he, the Lithuanian Arturas Kasputis, and the Italian Luca Colombo were more than five minutes ahead, the sprinters' teams reacted.

As the breakaway was hauled back, the race was split by a mass pile-up which blocked the road 12km from the finish. Beneath the tangle of riders needing new wheels and mechanics fighting to reach them, the medics found Frenchman Gilles Talmant, who had broken his left forearm.

Cipollini was among the fallers, while even more significantly, last year's Tour winner Bjarne Riis and world champion Alex Zulle were trapped behind the pile-up and lost time.

Riis starts today 1min 23sec in arrears, and Zulle, riding with 12 surgical pins in his fractured collarbone, is 1:50 behind Cipollini, who has almost a whole week of potential sprint successes ahead of him.

TOUR DE FRANCE (Rouen) Prologue time trial (7.3km): 1 C Boardman (GB) GAN 8min 20sec; 2 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom +2sec; 3 Y Berzin (Rus) Batik +5; 4 T Rominger (Swit) Cofidis; 5 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE both s/t; 6 P Meinert- Neilsen (Den) US Postal +7; 7 R Sorensen (Den) Rabobank +10; 8 A Olano (Sp) Banesto s/t; 9 L Brochard (Fr) Festina +11; 10 C Moreau (Fr) Festina +12. Four to follow: 22 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE; 39 R Virenque s/t; 44 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom +56sec.

First stage (192km, Rouen to Forge-les-Eaux): 1 M Cipollini (It) Saeco 4hr 39min 59sec; 2 T Steels (Belgium) Mapei; 3 F Moncassin (France) GAN; 4 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom; 5 R McEwen (Aus) Rabobank; 6 N Jalabert (Fr) Cofidis; 7 G Fraser (Can) La Mutuelle; 8 N Minali (It) Batik; 9 F Simon (Fr) GAN; 10 M Traversoni (It) Mercatone Uno; 11 M Strazzer (It) Roslotto; 12 J Blijlevens (Neth) TVM; 13 A Baffi (It) US Postal; 14 D Etxebarria (Sp) ONCE; 15 O Rodrigues (Port) Banesto; 16 F Andreu (US) Cofidis; 17 A Olano (Sp) Banesto; 18 G Hincapie (US) US Postal; 19 F Baldato (It) MG Technogym; 20 C Rinero (Fr) Cofidis all s/t.

Leading overall standings: 1 Cipollini 4hr 48min 9sec; 2 Boardman +0sec; 3 Ullrich +12; 4 Rominger 15; 5 Olano 20; 6 Steels 24; 7 S Knaven (Neth) TVM 25; 8 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank 27; 9 O Camenzind (Swit) Mapei s/t; 10 F Vandenbroucke (Bel) Mapei 28; 11 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE s/t; 12 J Heppner (Ger) Telekom +29; 13 Andreu s/t; 14 Moncassin +30; 15 Blijlevens s/t; 16 A Kasputis (Lith) Casino +31; 17 Baffi +32; 18 D Nelissen (Bel) Rabobank +34; 19 P Lino (Fr) Big Mat +35; 20 Zabel s/t. Four to follow: 3 Ullrich +12; 11 L Jalabert +28; 49 Virenque+54; 67 Riis +1.23.


Britons who have worn the maillot jaune

1962 Tommy Simpson 1 day

1994 Chris Boardman 3 days

1994 Sean Yates 1 day

1997 Chris Boardman 1 day