Cycling / Tour de France: Chiappucci swoops to a sprint success: Italy's Bionic Man claims overdue stage win but admits that Indurain is on the right road

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The Independent Online
CLAUDIO CHIAPPUCCI has been called many names. One of his favourites is the Bionic Man. Yesterday the Italian was a winner in the Tour de France, and that is the title he likes best.

The Tour made its exit here from three days in the Pyrenees, and Chiappucci finally made his entrance by outsprinting his compatriot, Massimo Ghirotto, and Spain's Jon Unzaga for the triumph he has been seeking for more than 2,000 Tour miles.

He always knew that his weakness in time trials would never make him a serious threat to the Tour leader, Miguel Indurain. His forte was the mountains, but in the Alps the Bionic Man blew a fuse and lost 8min 49sec on the road to Serre Chevalier.

Twice in the past two years he has won the red polka-dot colours of the best mountain climber, but was left trailing in the hunt for points on the peaks by Switzerland's Tony Rominger.

Unquenchable as ever, Chiappucci bounced back, launching attacks that made others uncomfortable, but seldom beatable. Yesterday he descended the winding road from the 2,115 metres (6,938ft) Tourmalet mountain faster than most with 132 kilometres to go.

Ghirotto and Unzaga joined him, and the stage was set for Chiappucci, especially when their lead topped five minutes. He may be sixth overall but the 14 minutes between him and Indurain will never reduce significantly while there is a time trial between here and Paris.

The mountains are over, the sprinters are sharpening their wits for today's flat stage to Bordeaux, and Indurain is preparing to increase his 4min 28sec lead in tomorrow's 48km time trial between Bretigny-sur-Orge and Montlhery.

'For the moment only Indurain can think of winning a Tour de France,' Chiappucci said. 'He is too good. In the time trials he is so strong, and in the mountains when I thought he might have a bad day, he did not.

'For me that day to Serre Chevalier was the blackest I have had. Afterwards I wanted to start again to see if there was still something left in me to win a stage or anything.'

'I am a partisan who fights for what he can get,' Chiappucci has maintained since his first cycling win when he was 16. 'Then I won a sprint between three of us.' Fourteen years on, yesterday's three-man sprint came just under one and a half minutes before Indurain arrived in a pack of 49. Tucked in the group was Rominger, who has secured the mountains jersey, which leaves the decimated ranks of the sprinters to settle the other principal honour, the green jersey for the most consistent finisher.

Djamolidine Abdoujaparov of Uzbekistan assumed that mantle when the Italian wearer, Mario Cipollini, was eliminated for failing to beat the finishing deadline on an Alpine stage. The Belgian, Wilfried Nelissen, and Germany's Olaf Ludwig also checked out of the challenge in the mountains.

Yesterday the Frenchman, Laurent Jalabert, gave up, and Max Sciandri, via a ninth placing yesterday, was elevated to chief challenger, a promotion that will raise interest in Derby, where he was born, Bournemouth, his grandparents' home, and Italy, where he lives.

TOUR DE FRANCE 17th stage (189.5km, 118.5 miles, Tarbes to Pau): 1 C Chiappucci (It, Carrera) 5hr 5min 33sec; 2 M Ghirotto (It, ZG Mobili) 3 J Unzaga (Sp, Clas) same time; 4 B Riis (Den, Ariostea) +1:17; 5 V Ekimov (Rus, Novemail) +1:21; 6 J-P Dojwa (Fr, Festina) +1:21; 7 J Skibby (Den, TVM) +1:24; 8 J Museeuw (Bel, GB-MG); 9 M Sciandri (It, Motorola); 10 S Colage (It, ZG Mobili); 11 F Simon (Fr, Castorama); 12 G Perini (It, ZG Mobili); 13 Z Jaskula (Pol, GB-MG); 14 G Faresin (It, ZG Mobili); 15 A Mejia (Col, Motorola) all s/t. Selected: 23 S Roche (Irl, Carrera); 27 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto); 31 R Millar (GB, TVM) all +1:24; 117 S Yates (GB, Motorola) +18:53.

Overall: 1 Indurain 84hr 18min 9sec; 2 Mejia at +4:28; 3 Jaskula +4:42; 4 T Rominger (Swit, Clas) +5:41; 5 Riis +12:08; 6 Chiappucci +14:19; 7 A Hampsten (US, Motorola) +14:35; 8 J Bruyneel (Bel, Once) +16:30; 9 P Delgado (Sp, Banesto) +19:21; 10 V Pulnikov (Ukr, Carrera) +20:40; 11 A Martin (Sp, Amaya) +24:19; 12 Dojwa +25:27; 13 G Faresin (It, ZG Mobili) +25:44; 14 R Conti (It, Ariostea) +26:16; 15 O Rincon (Col, Amaya) +26:19. Selected: 16 Roche +26:37; 22 Millar +36:18; 89 Yates +2.09:09.

King of the Mountains: 1 Rominger 439pts; 2 Chiappucci 295; 3 Rincon 286. Points: 1 D Abdoujaparov (Uzb, Lampre) 228pts; 2 Sciandri 131; 3 Museeuw 130.

(Photograph and maps omitted)