Nelissen held off the surging threat of Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, the most feared of sprinters, and Mario Cipollini, acclaimed the fastest, at the end of a 227-kilometre race from Les Sables d'Olonne to here.
His victory was worth a deduction of 20 seconds from his total time, and given that Nelissen was six seconds clear of Indurain, and had won two other time bonuses, Belgium could celebrate the first yellow jersey since Eric Vanderaerden.
Nelissen started yesterday 17 seconds behind the Basque leader, and begins today that amount in advance, after taking his team's advice to try for the intermediate sprints to gain time bonuses as a means to take the leader's colours.
He and six others succeeded where waves of previous attacks had failed in winds that swayed the trees but not the pursuing field. Gianni Bugno, a strong Indurain rival, attacked in the last three kilometres, and Nelissen was among those who profited from the move.
It was low tide at the Passage du Gois, a four-kilometre causeway that offers a short cut to Vannes when the Atlantic recedes twice a day. Its narrow roughened surface caused no problems for the race but crashes were as regular as attacks throughout the day.
Alex Zulle planned to celebrate his 25th birthday with an after-race glass of champagne but the Swiss was not so bubbly after slipping from second to sixth. He injured his thigh in a spill, and the French front-runner Laurent Jalabert hurt his side in another tumble.
Abdoujaparov was not to be outdone. He fell for the second time in as many days, wounding his arm, but was fit enough to dispute the finishing sprint.
Thierry Marie of France risked much to climb from sixth to fifth overall. He shared a 100- kilometre breakaway with the Slovak Jan Svorada. The pair gained six minutes on the field, but it was dimishing rapidly as they tackled the day's only climb, the three-kilometre bridge over the Loire near St Nazaire.
TOUR DE FRANCE Second stage (227.5km, Les Sables d'Olonne to Vannes): 1 W Nelissen (Bel, Novemail) 5hr 41min 9sec; 2 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek, Lampre); 3 M Cipollini (It, GB MG); 4 O Ludwig (Ger, Telekom); 5 R Alcala (Mex, Wordperfect); 6 G Bugno (It, Gatorade); 7 L Armstrong (US, Motorola) all same time; 8 M Kummer (Ger, Telekom) +3sec; 9 J Kirsipuu (Est, Chazal) +6; 10 J Nevens (Bel, Lotto); 11 M Sciandri (It, Motorola); 12 J Museeuw (Bel, GB MG); 13 S Colage (It, ZG Mobili); 14 J-C Colotti (Fr, GAN); 15 C Henn (Ger, Telekom) all s/t. Selected: 23 S Roche (Irl, Carrera) +6; 25 C Chiappucci (It, Carrera); 27 S Yates (GB, Motorola); 32 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto); 98 R Millar (GB, TVM) all +6.
Overall: 1 Nelissen 10hr 41min 35sec; 2 Indurain +17sec; 3 Cipollini +21; 4 Bugno +26; 5 T Marie (Fr, Festina) +28; 6 A Zulle (Swit, ONCE) +29; 7 L Jalabert (Fr, ONCE) +32; 8 Alcala +33; 9 T Rominger (Swit, Clas) +35; 10 Abdoujaparov +36; 11 R Sorensen (Den, Carrera) +39; 12 Chiappucci +41; 13 Z Jaskula (Pol, GB MG) +42; 14 Roche +45; 15 B Cenghialta (It, Ariostea) +46. Selected: 120 Millar +1min 22sec; 123 Yates +1:24.
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