Further inspiration was in the crowd, if only Cipollini had had the opportunity to look for the swim- suited girls. His sights, for once, were set on the finish line as the swarm of 180 riders swept down the long road in a bustling finish that left six racers flattened by a crash.
Cipollini snapped up his ninth victory of the year, and then explained the difference in his flop of a Tour debut last year, and the determination of the current start. 'After four months of pressure riding the classics and the Tour of Italy it is impossible for me to have a good Tour de France, so this year I decided to miss the Italian Tour,' he said. 'Last year I rode the Tour de France because my sponsors wanted it. They said you are the best sprinter in the world, so you must compete. I was at the Tour de France in 1992 but not in mind.'
Yesterday he almost came to grief. 'I took a big risk at the last left-hand bend and almost fell. If the rest want to beat me now they will have to take a tandem.' Cipollini's reputation has been built in vivid sprints, and so too has that of Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. Known to the French as the Tashkent TGV because of his express speed, he went off the rails yesterday and was one of the six fallers who escaped with grazes and bruises.
As the extroverts of the fast finish were cutting their capers, Miguel Indurain was safely tucked in the main field, content with a day's work that had increased his overall lead to 12 seconds over Switzerland's Alex Zulle. The Basque came bounding through at an intermediate sprint to take second place, and earn a four-second time deduction, on the sun-softened roads from Lucon. The rest of the activity in the 215km (nearly 134 miles) stage was carefully monitored by the team-mates of Indurain and others with challenges to maintain.
In the Vendee land of windmills, a few attempted tilts at victory, and the last attack of the day died with 4km to go as another Italian-led charge was drawn back. Each previous move was full of forza, but the most dangerous, which included Bruno Cenghialta and Massimo Ghirotto, lasted more than 100km, and built a lead of two minutes 40 seconds. But the final shot was down to Cipollini. His beach days may have to wait, but there are more coastal finishes this week to boost his sprinting ego.
TOUR DE FRANCE (First stage, Lucon to Les Sables-d'Olonne, 215km, 134 miles): 1 M Cipollini (It) GB MG, 4hr 52min 29sec; 2 W Nelissen (Bel) Novemail; 3 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE; 4 Olaf Ludwig (Ger) Telekom; 5 J Capiot (Bel) TVM; 6 J Kirsipuu (Est) Chazal; 7 J-P van Poppel (Neth) Festina; 8 J Svorada (Slovak) Lampre; 9 A Ferrigato (It) Ariostea; 10 M Sciandri (It) Motorola; 11 J Nijdam (Neth) WordPerfect; 12 F Moncassin (Fr) Wordperfect; 13 U Raab (Ger) Telekom; 14 G Fidanza (It) Gatorade; 15 J-P Dojwa (Fr) Festina; 16 Y Ledanois (Fr) WordPerfect; 17 A Olano (Sp) Clas, all same time; 18 J Skibby (Den) TVM, +4sec; 19 M Dernies (Bel) Motorola; 20 L Armstrong (US) Motorola, both s/t. Overall standings: 1 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto 5hr 41sec; 2 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE +12sec 3 Jalabert +13; 4 G Bugno (It) Gatorade +15; 5 Nelissen +17; 6 T Marie (Fr)
Festina, s/t; 7 T Rominger (Swit) Clas 18; 8 Cipollini +20; 9 R Sorensen (Den) Carrera +22; 10 R Alcala (Mex) WordPerfect s/t; 11 C Chiappucci (It) Carrera +24; 12 Z Jaskula (Pol) MG GB +25; 13 Nijdam +28; 14 S Roche (Irl) Carrera s/t; 15 B Cenghialta (It) Ariostea +29; 16 V Ekimov (Rus) Novemail s/t; 17 J Bruyneel (Bel) ONCE +30; 18 E Breukink (Neth) ONCE s/t; 19 Ferrigato +31; 20 Fidanza s/t. Mountains leader: F Simon (Fr) Castorama. Points leader: Cipollini.
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