Cycling: Tour de France - Guerini grinds out one for the album

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The Independent Online
CYCLING'S THEATRE of dreams, a snaking mountain pass called l'Alpe d'Huez, almost turned to a house of horror for the Italian Giuseppe Guerini at the hands of an amateur photographer as the Tour de France toiled through the Alps.

His solo ride over the final two kilometres of the exacting 220km run over three mountains came to a brief but stunning halt in the last kilometre when a spectator stpped into the road for a quick "snap", and got more of a close-up than he expected as Guerini careered into him.

Thankfully, Guerini was soon up and seemingly moving even faster to become the fourth Italian in six years to triumph at the ski resort.

"At that moment the most beautiful day of my life turned into a nightmare. I was sure that I had lost the race, but I still gave it all I had," Guerini said.

Pavel Tonkov, the Russian pursuing him, was still 21 seconds adrift of the Italian at the finish with Spain's Fernando Escartin third at the head of a six-man group containing the Tour leader, Lance Armstrong.

The American lost nothing by Guerini's victory. In fact he gained on his closest challenger, Spain's Abraham Olano, who lost contact with the leaders, on the 14km struggle to the finish. Armstrong now holds an impressive advantage of 7min 42sec, but he admitted to feeling a little weary.

The stage was set for a French victory on their national holiday, and two gallant patriots set out to provide the fireworks. Thierry Bourguignon stayed with Stephane Heulot until the early slopes of l'Alpe d'Huez, and the ambitious hunters behind were not bothered about Bastille Day. Heulot finally succumbed some three kilometres from the summit finish after spending 150 of the 220km in the lead.

It was not to be Monsieur Heulot's holiday celebration. "It was a dream that did not come true," he said after finishing 11th. "After 150 kilometres I was shattered."

Spectators are just one of the perils of this mountain. The thousands who pack the 22 hairpin bends with their camps, and various national flags number a few idiots in their ranks.Heulot's patience was tried by one such fan in a less dramatic encounter than Guerini's. The spectator ran beside Heulot who responded with a sideswipe that sent the fan reeling.

The long winding drag to l'Alpe d'Huez was dotted with signs in support of Richard Virenque, whom organisers had tried to exclude. They read: "L'Alpe d'Huez needs Virenque. Fight for your fans. We will always support you." He finished among the contenders to retain the red polka dotted jersey of best climber.

One sign offered: "EPO at 100 metres." The initials stood for eau, pastis, and orgeat, the ingredients for an aperitif known as mauresque. The joke would have been lost on the riders, particularly those who were struggling, like Axel Merckx who had stomach cramps. His father Eddy, who won the Tour five times, was in a car with Tour director, Jean-Marie Leblanc, for this classic stage; the first news announced on Radio Tour was "Merckx abandonee".

While Merckx Snr completed the stage in comfort, Greg LeMond, who won three Tours, arrived by bike, leading a party of cyclo-tourists. The American has had tougher rides on the notorious slopes. Notably in 1986 when he reached the finishing straight with Bernard Hinault. He and his team-mate joined hands and held them high, then Hinault rode in first. Five days later LeMond won his first Tour at 25.

The Australian outback took on a new meaning when early in the day four Aussies dropped way behind, finishing more than half an hour after the winner. Stuart O'Grady was joined by Jay Sweet, who found himself as the "lanterne rouge", the last rider in the overall standings.

O'Grady kept the green jersey as points category leader, but the podium ceremony was delayed until he arrived 34 minutes late in a group that included Britain's Chris Boardman.


10TH STAGE (Sestriere-Alpe-d'Huez, 220.5km): 1 G Guerini (It) Telekom 6hr 42min 31sec (ave speed 32.868kph); 2 P Tonkov (Rus) Mapei at 21sec; 3 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +25sec; 4 A Zulle (Swit) Banesto; 5 R Virenque (Fr) Polti; 6 L Armstrong (US) US Postal; 7 L Dufaux (Swit) Saeco; 8 K van de Wouwer (Bel) Lotto, all same time; 9 M Beltran (Sp) Banesto +32; 10 C Contreras (Col) Kelme +49; 11 S Heulot (Fr) La Francaise de Jeux +1min 43sec; 12 A Olano (Sp) ONCE +2:04; 13 A Vinokourov (Kazak) Casino +2:13; 14 B Salmon (Fr) Casino, st; 15 A Peron (It) ONCE +2:42; 16 A Casero (Sp) Vitalicio Seguros; 17 D Nardello (It) Mapei, all st; 18 T Hamilton (US) US Postal +2:45; 19 G Totschnig (Aut) Telekom +3:47; 20 S de Wolf (Bel) Cofidis +4:00. Selected: 45 M Boogerd (Neth) Rabobank +12:27; 106 C Boardman (GB) Credit Agricole +34:20.

Leading overall standings: 1 Armstrong 46hr 14min 3sec; 2 Olano +7min 42sec; 3 Zulle +7:47; 4 Dufaux +8:07; 5 Escartin +8:53; 6 Virenque +10:02; 7 Tonkov +10:18; 8 Nardello +10:56; 9 Guerini +10:57; 10 Casero +11:11; 11 Salmon +12:30; 12 C Moreau (Fr) Festina +12:51; 13 Peron +13:30; 14 Van de Wouwer +16:14; 15 M Aerts (Bel) Lotto +17:31; 16 B Hamburger (Den) Cantina Tollo +17:47; 17 Beltran +18:27; 18 Garzelli +19:07; 19 Contreras +19:08; 20 Hamilton +19:12. Selected: 46 Boogerd +46:25; 140 Boardman 1:34:08.