Cycling / Tour de France: Indurain gains psychological edge: Favourite takes a puncture in his stride while Breukink mounts challenge

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The Independent Online
MIGUEL INDURAIN was untouchable, but not unstoppable, in yesterday's time trial here that had been billed as crucial to the destiny of the leading contenders. With seven of the 59 kilometres left on the undulating circuit near Metz, the Basque was checked in full flight by a puncture.

However, thanks to a rapid wheel change, he still swept home more than two minutes faster than his Italian rival, Gianni Bugno, and the Dutchman, Eric Breukink, who was riding the Lotus bike.

The carbon fibre monocoque frame that Chris Boardman rode to Britain's first Olympic cycling gold for 72 years has not impressed Breukink. 'I cannot believe claims that it is so much faster per kilometre. It is just another bike,' he said.

The design engineer, Rudy Thomann, has always insisted that it was the combination of man and machine, not just a special bike, that had brought Boardman success in Barcelona.

Breukink insisted that he was reaching his old peak. 'I am staying with the best once again, but Indurain is above us all,' he said. Nevertheless Breukink moved to within 1min 35sec of Indurain, who regained the yellow jersey he had vacated nine days ago.

Indurain's main concern, however, was for his younger brother, Prudencio, who finished last of the 171 competitors, 17:48 behind the race favourite.

'It is fortunate for him that I had a puncture, because he was close to being eliminated for his slow time. For once I am pleased to have a puncture,' Indurain said. He even took time to throw off his racing helmet when the visor became misty.

Such factors are of little comfort to Bugno, who is usually psyched out by the very presence of Indurain. 'To gain a psychological advantage over my adversaries it is important to have a good time trial,' Indurain added. 'Having the jersey again is double edged, because I have to respond to the different attacks, control the racing, and honour the colours of the leader, which I shall do.'

Bugno was content with the day's work. 'I have done what I expected,' he said. 'The Tour really began with this time trial, and it began well for me.'

However, his supporters on the course seemed to be asking for more when they hung their 'Forza Bugno' banners next to a sign welcoming the 'givers of blood'. The latter message was intended for the French blood transfusion service which is represented in the publicity caravan which precedes the race.

Bugno lies fourth overall, 2:32 behind Indurain, and approaching his favourite territory, the Alps, which, after today's rest day, the riders face tomorrow with a 204km leg over the Glandon climb, followed by the Col du Telegraph and the 8,677ft-high Galibier mountain. This could prove the last straw for many.

TOUR DE FRANCE Ninth stage (59km time trial, Lac de Madine): 1 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto) 1hr 12min 50sec; 2 G Bugno (It, Gatorade) +2min 11sec; 3 E Breukink (Neth, Once) +2:22; 4 T Rominger (Swit, Clas) +2:42; 5 A Zulle (Swit, Once) +3:18; 6 J Bruyneel (Bel, Once) +3:50; 7 Z Jaskula (Pol, GB MG) +4:00; 8 R Alcala (Mex, WordPerfect) +4:05; 9 P Louviot (Fr, Once) +4:28; 10 S Roche (Irl, Carrera) +4:30; 11 A Elli (It, Ariostea) +4:32; 12 B Riis (Den, Ariostea) +4:40; 13 C Mottet (Fr, Novemail) +4:57; 14 P Delgado (Sp, Banesto) +5:09; 15 G Rue (Fr, Banesto) +5:13. Selected: 16 C Chiappucci (It, Carrera) +5:18; 103 S Yates (GB, Motorola) +9:36; 106 R Millar (GB, TVM) +9:43.

Overall: 1 Indurain 35hr 29min 25sec; 2 Breukink +1min 35sec; 3 Bruyneel +2:30; 4 Bugno +2:32; 5 Riis +2:34; 6 J Museeuw (Bel, GB MG) +3:02; 7 Jaskula +3:03; 8 A Mejia (Col, Motorola) +3:08; 9 Louviot +3:54; 10 Roche +4.10; 11 Zulle +4:12; 12 Alcala +4:32; 13 Mottet +4:40; 14 Chiappucci +5:07; 15 L Jalabert (Fr, Once) +5:11. Selected: 20 Rominger +5:44; 62 Yates +9:47; 85 Millar 11:36.

(Map omitted)