Cycling / Tour de France: Boardman holds on to yellow jersey: Riders come to grief after crash with policeman during sprint finish at Armentieres

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The Independent Online
AFTER the dream came the first nightmare, but Chris Boardman came through his first twitchy day of defending the Tour de France lead with his 15-second lead intact.

He missed a horrifying 40mph pile-up in the finishing sprint at Armentieres to take 29th place as 188 riders were credited with the same time as the winner, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.

The Uzbekistani is often accused of causing trouble with his wild tactics, but yesterday it was an errant policeman who met head-on with the Belgian champion, Wilfried Nelissen. The ensuing spill scattered 10 riders over the finishing straight, and the ambulances took four, including the gendarme, to hospital. Nelissen has concussion, the Frenchman Laurent Jalabert has broken teeth and facial injuries, and Italian Fabio Fontanelli is only slightly injured. Only the Italian will be fit to race today.

Jean Marie Leblanc, the Tour director, announced the injury details but did not mention the policeman's injuries. An indication perhaps of little sympathy for a man who is suspected of trying to photograph the riders.

Leblanc's allegation was rated a snap judgment by town officials who promptly issued a statement defending the policeman.

It was the second time in the 234km (146 miles) stage from Lille that Boardman's team manager, Roger Legeay, had sweat on his brow. Belgium's Herman Frison accompanied by the Dutchmen Jean- Paul van Poppel and Rob Mulders took a lead of nearly two minutes, and became the leader on the road. Any panic had passed five miles from the finish, a long hard chase by Boardman's men, marshalled by three-times Tour winner Greg LeMond, stifling the threat.

Since Boardman wowed even hardened Tour followers with a near 35mph record ride to beat Miguel Indurain by 15 seconds in Saturday's opening time trial, the thought of wearing the yellow jersey into England on Wednesday is developing into reality.

'I achieved my main objective on Saturday,' Boardman said. 'Our plan is to bring that jersey home but we will have to wait and see. We are all motivated to make it happen. The pressure is off. It is now on Indurain and Tony Rominger. They have to win this Tour.'

LeMond was reassuring if cautious about their chances. 'It is all down to Tuesday's team time trial. It is going to be difficult. We have some strong riders but other teams have incredible power.

'The Tour is a great motivator. Everyone is motivated to do well. Boardman is confident but does not think that he is top of the world. He knows what he has to do.

'He has tremendous talent, and I have been trying to convince him that any guy who can produce the speed he did in the time trial and produce his maximum power can climb any mountain he wants.

'The only thing he might lack is the endurance capacity to handle the Tour workload day by day. He has certainly put a lot of professionals in their place. Because he broke the world hour record as an amateur they think anyone can do it, but after seeing the speed of which he is capable, they are now having second thoughts.

'For Chris the real threat is the mental strain. The Tour is not like any other race. It eats your mental energy with all the extra demands like interviews. I found three weeks of defending my yellow jersey more psychologically draining than the physical effort of racing. Chris has to learn how to conserve his energies.'

Boardman had little opportunity on Saturday. 'I did not get to sleep until midnight what with phone calls and requests for interviews.'

His wife, Sally, arrived unexpectedly. The first Boardman knew of her visit was when she knocked on his bedroom door. A surprise for an athlete who has given Britain several surprises. From our first Olympic cycling gold for 72 years to the blue riband of cycling records, the hour, and then straight into the yellow jersey on his Tour debut.

The second Briton to wear the coveted colours since Tom Simpson 32 years ago. Now he writes another chapter as the only Briton to defend the jersey successfully. Simpson lost it after one day in the Pyrenees.

England expects . . . and Boardman has certainly done his duty. A victory parade through Kent, Sussex and Hampshire this week is growing with each turn of the pedals as the race today heads for the Channel coast.

From Roubaix to Boulogne is 203 kilometres, but the day that could make a dream come true is a successful outcome in the team time trial to the Tunnel entrance.

TOUR DE FRANCE First stage (Euralille to Armentieres, 234km): 1 D Abdoujaparov (Uzb) Polti 5hr 46min 16sec; 2 O Ludwig (Ger) Telekom ; 3 J Museeuw (Bel) GB MG ; 4 S Martinello (It) Mercatone Uno ; 5 A Tchmil (Rus) Lotto; 6 J Svorada (Slovak) Lampre; 7 G Fidanza (It) Polti; 8 E Magnien (Fr) Castorama; 9 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto; 10 G Bortolami (It) Mapei Clas; 11 F Andreu (US) Motorola; 12 C Zamana (Pol) Kelme; 13 M Sergeant (Bel) Novemail; 14 U Raab (Ger) Telekom; 15 F Simon (Fr) Castorama; 16 R Pensec (Fr) Novemail; 17 E Poli (It) Mercatone Uno; 18 P Lino (Fr) Festina; 19 A Olano (Sp) Mapei Clas; 20 J Kirsipuu (Est) Chazal. Selected: 29 C Boardman (GB) GAN; 42 C Chiappucci (It) Carrera; 45 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei Clas; 49 S Yates (GB) Motorola all same time. Overall: 1 Boardman 5hr 54min 5sec; 2 Indurain +15sec; 3 Rominger +19. 4 A Zuelle ONCE +22; 5 Museeuw +23; 6 A de las Cuevas (Fr) Castorama +24. 7 Abdoujaparov +27. 8 T Marie (Fr) Castorama +29. 9 E Seigneur (Fr) GAN +30. 10 Ludwig +32. 11 Chiappucci +33; 12 A Peron (It) Polti +34; 13 T Davy (Fr) Castorama +35. 14 P Ugrumov (Lat) Gewiss Ballan same time; 15 E Breukink (Neth) ONCE +36. 16 V Ekimov (Rus) WordPerfect +37. 17 Bontempi; 18 Olano; 19 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE all same time. 20 B Riis (Den) Gewiss Ballan +38.55. Selected: 55 Yates +51; 65 Bugno +54.

(Photograph and maps omitted)