Cycling / Tour de France: Bruyneel fuels fire of Belgian expectations: Cipollini has an edge in the sprint to retake the yellow jersey and concentrate on building up a lead to take into the mountains

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The Independent Online
THE PACE was as hot as the pools of melting tar on the long road to Amiens, where Mario Cipollini returned to the yellow jersey yesterday as quickly as he had lost it the previous day, and a Tour de France record fell to the Belgian, Johan Bruyneel, who won the sixth stage.

Bruyneel recorded an average speed of 49.41kph (30.70mph) for the 158 kilometres from Evreux, just under five hundredths of a second faster than the 1988 best by the Dutchman, Adri van der Poel, at Pau.

Cipollini's sprint with Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, of Uzbekistan, for second place required photo-finish assistance for confirmation.

Today there is no doubting the race leader. Cipollini has his biggest lead, a well-rounded 12 seconds, over the Belgian, Wilfried Nelissen, since they began jousting for seconds back in Brittany earlier in the week.

Cipollini took the jersey in the team time trial by six seconds, lost it on Thursday to the Belgian, by two seconds, and during yesterday's leg snapped up a deduction of two seconds at an intermediate sprint.

Nelissen was unable to parry his final thrust, worth 12 seconds in bonuses and another day in the famous jersey. This fencing for ticks on the timekeeper's watch will end when the battle axes come out in the Alps, if not before in Monday's time trial when Miguel Indurain aims to make his mark.

Meanwhile Cipollini is enjoying the cut and thrust. 'I wanted to prove that I have some character by retaking the jersey, but I also learned a lesson at Amiens,' he said. 'I have been criticised for starting my sprints too late, so I tried a long effort, because with my big build I need to gather speed.'

The victory of the day was Bruyneel's, and he dedicated it to the memory of his father, who died a month ago. If the pack had not been in a hunting mood, he might have been honouring his father with a yellow jersey.

Bruyneel broke clear in the final 17km and 4km from the finish was 11 seconds from taking the overall lead. The field were bearing down on him in the finishing straight, which stretched for nearly 2km, but he clung on to finish 13sec clear.

It moved him to third overall, which will cause more than a ripple back home in Belgium, where the fans have been hungry for success since Eddy Merckx put away his winning wheels in 1978.

Jacky Durand, of France, Cipollini's team-mate Flavio Vanzella, and the Canadian Steve Bauer set the pace of the day with a breakaway for 98km, completing the first hour at just over 48kph.

The events of the past six days have been studied by groups from southern England, where the Tour will spend two days next year. They returned to base yesterday convinced they can handle the enormity of the event with its hundreds of vehicles and thousands of followers.

'We are taking the whole Tour, including the publicity cavalcade, to Britain,' Jean-Marie Leblanc, the Tour director, said. The only other time the race came to England it was a limited affair on an unopened bypass near Plymouth in 1974.

The Tour covered seven countries last year to celebrate European unity and comes to Britain in a move that will publicise the Channel tunnel.

TOUR DE FRANCE Sixth stage (158km, 98.75 miles, Evreux to Amiens): 1 J Bruyneel (Bel, Once) 3hr 11min 30sec; 2 M Cipollini (It, GB MG) +13sec; 3 D Abdoujaparov (Uzb, Lampre); 4 J Capiot (Bel, TVM); 5 C Capelle (Fr, GAN); 6 F Moncassin (Fr, Wordperfect); 7 G Fidanza (It, Gatorade); 8 L Jalabert (Fr, Once); 9 A Ferrigato (It, Ariostea); 10 F Simon (Fr, Castorama); 11 M Sciandri (It) Motorola; 12 U Raab (Ger, Telekom); 13 J Svorada (Slovak, Lampre); 14 W Nelissen (Bel, Novemail); 15 R Aldag (Ger, Telekom) all s/t. Selected: 32 S Yates (GB, Motorola) +13; 42 T Rominger (Swit, Clas); 44 C Chiappucci (It, Carrera); 46 G Bugno (It, Gatorade); 49 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto); 51 A Zulle (Swit, Once); 94 S Roche (Irl, Carrera). 106 R Millar (GB, TVM) all s/t.

Overall: 1 Cipollini 25hr 21min 28sec; 2 Nelissen +12sec; 3 Bruyneel +30; 4 Jalabert +44; 5 Zulle +45; 6 Z Jaskula (Pol, GB MG) +53; 7 E Breukink (Neth, Once) +1min 3sec; 8 P Louviot (Fr, Once); +1:16; 9 S Bauer (Can, Motorola) +1:21; 10 J Museeuw (Bel, GB MG) +1:22; 11 F Ballerini (It, GB MG) +1:29; 12 C Mottet (Fr, Novemail) +1:33; 13 A Hampsten (US, Motorola) +1:34; 14 R Sorensen (Den, Carrera) +1:37; 15 L Armstrong (US, Motorola) +1:39. Selected: 16 Chiappucci +1:39; 21 Roche +1:43; 23 Indurain +1:50; 27 Yates +2:01; 32 Bugno +2:11; 77 Millar +3:43; 91 Rominger +4:52.

King of the Mountains: 1 D Cassani (It, Ariostea) 29pts; 2 Simon 21; 3 L Desbiens (Fr, Castorama) 15. Points: 1 Nelissen 155pts; 2 Cipollini 154; 3 Abdoujaparov 103.

(Photograph and maps omitted)