Cycling / Tour de France: Chiappucci and LeMond go on the attack: Italian moves closer to the yellow jersey as pre-race favourite is taken by surprise

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The Independent Online
A DELUGE from the leaden skies above Brussels could not douse the Tour de France, set alight yesterday by the Italian firecracker Claudio Chiappucci and the American Greg LeMond.

This has not been a Tour that follows the usual early pattern of sprinters reaping the profits of mass finishes as the heavyweights pull their punches. Every stage has been busy, with a change of race leader on each of the first four days. Nothing was different yesterday, until Chiappucci and LeMond came out of their corners.

They had attacked in the morning as the race headed into Belgium, the first of four countries to be visited in as many days, but to no avail. Then, as the afternoon skies deepened into a threatening grey, Chiappucci attacked again and, with 26 of the 167 kilometres left, was joined by LeMond, Laurent Jalabert (France) and Brian Holm (Denmark). The yellow glow of the Tour leader's jersey was getting warmer, particularly for the Italian.

Chiappucci could not prevent Jalabert snatching victory for France under the shadow of the Atomium, a steely molecular reminder of the 1958 Expo, but was content that his second place would split his deficit.

It made him third overall, just over three and a half minutes off the race lead held by the Frenchman Pascal Lino. More importantly, it put more than one and a half minutes between him and Gianni Bugno and gave him nearly two minutes on Miguel Indurain, the Tour favourite.

Meanwhile, his rival LeMond, after a wobbly start that made a few heads shake, looks to be back on course, having risen to fifth from 14th. 'I know I had a bad start but I was so tired,' LeMond said. 'Now I have recovered so I will just have to see how things go in Monday's time trial. We knew it would be tricky through Belgium, especially in the rain, but you have to take your opportunities.'

Between their assaults, Thierry Marie had been busy, leading the race over the day's major obstacles - The Wall of Grammont, jammed with spectators awaiting the suffering, and the cobbled Bosberg hill. The Frenchman, with some help, kept things bubbling until Chiappucci charged away, while the rain took its toll as the rear of the pack was involved in a mass pile-up on a cobbled stretch.

As Chiappucci prepared his challenge, the flame of ambition was burning just as brightly for his Carrera team-mate, Stephen Roche, the Irishman who five years ago won the tours of France and Italy, plus a world title.

Some were anticipating that Roche would make this Tour his last. But the end is not in sight, according to Roche, who has fought his way into the top 10. 'I will not rest after this Tour. Whatever I do is money in the bank for next year. I finished the Tour of Spain and I want to finish the Tour de France, even if it hurts.'

Written off by some, especially after his rapid exit last year, Roche refuses to turn the page. 'My form is the best since 1987. I am getting better and better, and I could possibly win the Tour, but for my back trouble,' he said.

Roche ruptured a disc in the small of his back. 'It is going to hurt a lot in the time trials and in the mountains, but I have to put the pain in second place,' he said.

TOUR DE FRANCE Sixth stage (167km, Roubaix to Brussels): 1 L Jalabert (ONCE, Fr) 3hr 37min 6sec; 2 C Chiappucci (Carrera, It); 3 B Holm (Tulip, Den); 4 G LeMond (Z, US) all same time; 5 J Museeuw (Lotto, Bel) +1min 22sec; 6 W Nelissen (Panasonic, Bel); 7 O Ludwig (Panasonic, Ger); 8 D Konyshev (TVM, CIS); 9 J Capiot (TVM, Bel); 10 J Nijdam (Buckler, Neth); 11 E de Wilde (Telekom, Bel); 12 M Ghirotto (Carrera, It); 13 J Durand (Castorama, Fr); 14 S Kelly (Festina, Irl); 15 A van der Poel (Tulip, Neth) all s/t. Selected: 21 M Indurain (Banesto, Sp) +1:22; 23 S Roche (Carrera, Irl); 29 G Bugno (Gatorade, It); 51 R Millar (TVM, GB), 60 S Yates (Motorola, GB) all s/t; 185 M Earley (PDM, Irl) +9:00.

Overall: 1 P Lino (RMO, Fr) 26hr 22min 53sec; 2 S Bauer (Motorola, Can) +3min 11sec; 3 Chiappucci +3:34; 4 R Virenque (RMO, Fr) +4:02; 5 LeMond +4:29; 6 J Heppner (Telekom, Ger) +4:37; 7 Bugno +5:06; 8 Roche +5:28; 9 Indurain +5:33; 10 G Perini (Carrera, It) +5:35; 11 E Bouwmans (Panasonic, Neth) +5:40; 12 L Fignon (Gatorade, Fr) +5:49; 13 V Tebaldi (Gatorade, It) +5:54; 14 E Boyer (Z, Fr) +6:24; 15 P Delgado (Banesto, Sp) +6:25. Selected: 21 Millar +6:47; 40 Kelly +9:33; 85 Earley +22:06; 115 Yates +26:31.

(Photograph and maps omitted)

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