Cycling / Tour de France: Marie outsprints the specialists

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The Independent Online
ONLY once before had the pack finished together in this Tour. Yesterday in Tours the second opportunity arose, and Thierry Marie, not considered one of the pushy sprinting specialists, came off best.

Marie's audacity has been seen before in the Tour de France. Last year he made a move that was first considered rash, then hailed as superb, as he won in Le Havre with a breakaway of 234 kilometres. It missed being a Tour best by 19km. In 1947 another Frenchman Andre Bourlon went the full distance, 253km between Carcassonne and Luchon, for his stage win.

Yesterday, Marie's move came in the final 800 metres as the weaving pack jockeyed into the Avenue de Grammont. His first attempt was checked but in the last 100m he pulled ahead. 'When Jelle Nijdam went past me I knew he was strong so I followed him, then I attacked again,' Marie said. 'I knew the night before that this was going to be my day. I told my team that I would win.'

Marie's forte is racing against the clock, especially in the 'prologues' - the six-kilometre time tests that usually open big Tours. However, he was beaten by Miguel Indurain in the Tour prologue three weeks ago. Since that disappointment he vowed to win somewhere.

The speed and aggression of this Tour has meant lean times for the fast finishers, and it has also finished off two of the best, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov and Mario Cipollini. However, yesterday's pace was easier as the Tour wound through rural France passing medieval chateaux, reminders of wars long forgotten, and effigies of farmers swinging from gibbets - signs of a battle still to come over European farming policy.

In today's time trial Indurain looks untouchable. His 49kph (30mph) time trial in Luxemburg leaves only one question: who is going to be second in today's race between Tours and Blois?

Italy's Gianni Bugno and the Frenchman Pascal Lino are more interested in who is going to be third in Paris when the top three step on to the podium on the Champs-Elysees. The time trial could be the tie-breaker.

The American Andy Hampsten, third overall, is not rated highly in the time trial, but he is serious. Yesterday his Motorola team brought him an ultra-light disc wheel for today. He will need more than that to save his position.

TOUR DE FRANCE Stage 18 (212km, Montlucon to Tours): 1 T Marie (Castorama, Fr) 5hr 7min 15sec; 2 J Nijdam (Buckler, Neth); 3 J Museeuw (Lotto, Bel); 4 O Ludwig (Panasonic, Ger); 5 L Jalabert (Once, Fr); 6 A Da Silva (Festina, Por); 7 G Fidanza (Gatorade, It); 8 S Lilholt (Tulip, Den); 9 P Anderson (Motorola, Aus); 10 H Manders (Helvetia, Neth); 11 V Ekimov (Panasonic, CIS); 12 J Muller (Helvetia, Swit); 13 A Peiper (Tulip, Aus); 14 J-P van Poppel (PDM, Neth); 15 H Redant (Lotto, Bel) all s/t. Selected: 29 G Bugno (Gatorade, It); 36 S Yates (Motorola, GB); 47 S Kelly (Festina, Irl); 53 C Chiappucci (Carrera, It); 63 M Indurain (Banesto, Sp); 72 S Roche (Carrera, Irl); 87 M Earley (PDM, Irl); 100 R Millar (TVM, GB) all s/t as leader.

Overall: 1 Indurain 89hr 56min 25sec; 2 Chiappucci +1min 42sec; 3 A Hampsten (Motorola, US) +8:07; 4 P Lino (RMO, Fr) +9:22; 5 Bugno +10:09; 6 P Delgado (Banesto, Sp) +11:50; 7 E Breukink (PDM, Neth) +15:54; 8 G Perini (Carrera, It) +15:56; 9 Roche +17:12; 10 F Vona (GB-MG, It) +19:22; 11 J Heppner (Telekom, Ger) +20:01; 12 B-J Theunisse (TVM, Neth) +20:32; 13 E Boyer (Z, Fr) +20:40; 14 G Rue (Castorama, Fr) +21:29; 15 E Bouwmans (Panasonic, Neth) +22:56. Selected: 17 Millar +24:14; 40 Kelly +1hr 11min 42sec; 77 Earley +2:11:21; 84 Yates +2:19:53.

(Photograph omitted)