Cycling / Tour de France: 'El Conquistador' in control: Indurain on road to fourth triumph as Boardman pulls out

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MIGUEL INDURAIN confirmed his overwhelming domination of the Tour de France with one of the most impressive mountain rides of his career yesterday. On a day which saw the retirement of Britain's Chris Boardman, who had worn the yellow jersey for three days after beating Indurain in the prologue time trial, the Spaniard took a huge step towards his fourth Tour triumph.

'El Conquistador', attempting to become only the third man (after Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil) to win four Tours in a row, finished second behind Luc Leblanc, of France, in yesterday's 263-kilometre stage after a dogfight of a finish in the mist- shrouded ski station at Hautacam.

Tony Rominger, the Swiss who was expected to make life hard for Indurain, was weakened by a stomach bug. 'I had no force and after 150 kilometres I was empty,' Rominger said after losing more than two minutes on the 13km- long climb, which left him trailing the Spaniard in second place by 4min 47sec.

'I was surprised to see Rominger in trouble in the first mountain stage,' Indurain said. 'Perhaps he was tired after all the efforts he had to make in the previous days.'

Rominger collapsed half-way up the 13.5 km climb to the finish as Indurain accelerated to catch the Italian, Mario Pantani, who had just escaped. Pantani was soon caught, but only Leblanc could follow Indurain, looking almost effortless despite his heavy frame.

Indurain kept his cool when Leblanc attacked in the last metres and let the Frenchman claim the stage victory. Leblanc, who has been through hard times since taking the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees three years ago, said: 'I just couldn't believe I was up there with Indurain with all the others behind.'

In future years, the threat to Indurain, who will be 30 on Saturday, might come from the 25-year- old Frenchman, Armand de las Cuevas, who finished fifth yesterday to move to third place overall.

Indurain, who will enjoy today's rest day before another strenuous mountain stage tomorrow, warned that the race was not over yet. 'There are still plenty of mountains left and everything can happen, but hopefully my team will be able to control the race,' he said.

Boardman quit on the road to Lourdes. After two days of sweltering heat, yesterday was much cooler. But as he reached the feeding station at Fleurance, Boardman braked, dismounted and climbed into his GAN team car. Behind him were 1,975km of learning the hardest way.

'I would have liked to have ridden in the Pyrenees, but my tiredness was such that I did not want to get totally trashed and lose half an hour in the mountains another day,' he said. 'I did not want to destroy that part of my reputation which I began building in this race.'

Boardman expects to tangle with the Tour giants next month in the new world road time trial championship in Sicily. Before that he is seeking world gold on the Palermo track in the 4,000 metres pursuit championship, at which he is Olympic champion.

'I don't want people to think that I can only ride fast and that's about it,' Boardman said. 'I am so motivated already for the next Tour. I am looking towards it in a big way and I am already planning. This Tour has been a very useful experience. There is no other race like it.'

TOUR DE FRANCE 11th stage (263.5km, Cahors to Lourdes): 1 L Leblanc (Fr) Festina 6hr 58min 04sec; 2 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto +2sec; 3 M Pantani (It) Carrera +18; 4 R Virenque (Fr) Festina +56; 5 A de las Cuevas (Fr) Castorama +58; 6 P Tonkov (Rus) Lampre +1:26; 7 P Ugrumov (Lat) Gewiss Ballan s/t; 8 E Zaina (It) Gewiss Ballan +1:36; 9 R Conti (It) Lampre +1:46; 10 L Cubino (Sp) Kelme +1:50; 11 A Zuelle (Swit) ONCE +1:52; 12 V Poulnikov (Ukr) Carrera s/t; 13 N Rodriguez (Col) ZG Mobili +2:05; 14 O Pellicioli (It) Polti +2:21; 15 B Riis (Den) Gewiss Ballan; 16 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei Clas; 17 U Bolts (Ger) Telekom all s/t; 18 P Lino (Fr) Festina +2:31; 19 J-F Bernard (Fr) Banesto +2:35; 20 O Rincon (Col) ONCE +2:51. Selected: 49 G Bugno (It) Polti +5:18; 64 L Armstrong (US) Motorola +7:03; 146 S Yates (GB) Motorola +15:58; 168 C Chiappucci (It) Carrera +23:57. Retired: C Boardman (GB) GAN.

Leading overall standings: 1 Indurain 51hr 47min 25sec; 2 Rominger +4:47; 3 De las Cuevas +5:36; 4 Ugrumov +8:32; 5 L Leblanc +8:35; 6 Riis +8:59; 7 G Bortolami (It) Mapei Clas +9:14; 8 A Olano (Sp) Kelme +9:20; 9 T Davy (Fr) Castorama +9:46; 10 Zaina +11:15; 11 Poulnikov +11:30; 12 Tonkov +12:15; 13 Bernard +12:33; 14 Zuelle +12:44; 15 T Marie (Fr) Castorama +12:52; 16 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Polti +13:06; 17 A Peron (It) Polti +13:11; 18 F Vanzella (It) GB MG +13:20; 19 Conti 13:27; 20 Armstrong +13:36. Selected: 40 Bugno +19:06; 55 Yates +22:26; 125 Chiappucci +33:55.

(Map omitted)