Cycling / Tour de France: Rincon at home in the mountains: Colombian gives his country their first success for five years

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The Independent Online
THE Tour de France's entry into Andorra was made for a Colombian, and Oliveiro Rincon obliged on a day when 101 of the 144 kilometres went upwards in a land that is not dissimilar to his own country.

Nine Pyrenean mountains lay between the Perpignan start and the finish, and the Spanish fans had covered the roads of each with graffiti mainly lauding Miguel Indurain and occasionally calling for freedom for Catalonia.

There was no recognition on the tarmac for Rincon. That came at the heights of Montee de Pal where he arrived one minute and 50 seconds before Tony Rominger, the bearer of the red polka dots of the best mountaineer.

'I hope my result and the success of Alvaro Mejia ensures that Colombian cycling never dies,' he said. 'This is the best day of my life, but in the last kilometre I was worried because I did not know how much lead I had. Now I ask God to help me reach Paris safely without any falls.'

It has been five years since Fabio Parra gave Colombia their last stage win at the Alpine resort of Morzine. He and Luis Herrera were the trail- blazers that led to Colombian sponsors fielding two teams in Tours of the 1980s and starting a trend among European teams to sign at least one Colombian for his climbing ability.

This has been one of Colombia's better Tours, with Mejia lying second to Indurain, and yesterday Rincon, finding his way in his first Tour de France, raced away from his two co-leaders in the last 31km, his lead having lasted for 183km.

He and the Venezuelan, Leonardo Sierra, had been with Richard Virenque since the French climber launched the assault on the 23km ascent of the Col de Jau. By the summit the trio had a lead of more than four minutes.

It grew with each mountain, and topped 10 minutes as they surged through the hairpins of the Col de la Quillane. Then on the Col d'Ordino he sprinted away as if his rivals were standing still, leaving them to the inevitable fate of being swamped by the Indurain chase led by his hard-grafting French lieutenant, Gerard Rue.

On the climb to the finish Indurain and his troops were vigilant. Twice Rominger tried his luck, but then a late jump took him clear enough to snatch second with Zenon Jaskula, of Poland, chasing him in for third.

If anything the Swiss was anxious to pick up more mountain points, because he knew that Rincon's drive for victory had mopped up sufficient points to close to within 55 of the jersey. Rominger has conceded there is little hope of taking the yellow jersey from Indurain, and instead set his sights on the colours every true Swiss would expect to win.

'I am truly very tired,' Rominger said. 'The rest day has come at the right time for me.' And for many others too as yesterday's 231km, plus Indurain's pace, spread the 139 survivors as far back as 48 minutes.

On Saturday Olaf Ludwig was celebrating a sprint victory at Montpellier. Last night in Andorra he was ready to leave for home, after finding a mountain that he could not beat, and Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, his rival for the green jersey of most consistent finisher, was sympathetic.

'The mountains are the enemy of sprinters,' the Uzbek said. 'I am just happy to have reached Andorra because I have been really extended by the climbs.'

He and his ilk can expect more stretching on the rack of the Pyrenees. The Tour does not leave them for two days.

TOUR DE FRANCE 15th stage (231.5km. 144 miles, Perpignan to Andorra): 1 O Rincon (Col, Amaya) 7hr 20min 19sec; 2 T Rominger (Swit, Clas) +1min 50sec; 3 B Riis (Den, Ariostea); 4 Z Jaskula (Pol, GB MG); 5 M Indurain (Sp, Banesto); 6 A Mejia (Col, Motorola) all s/t; 7 J-P Dojwa (Fr, Festina) +1:52; 8 C Chiappucci (It, Carrera) s/t; 9 A Martin (Sp, Amaya) +2:02; 10 J Unzaga (Sp, Clas) +2:09; 11 R Virenque (Fr, Festina) +2:12; 12 P Delgado (Sp, Banesto) +2:13; 13 F Vona (It, GB MG) +2:14; 14 J Bruyneel (Bel, ONCE) s/t; 15 R Conti (It, Ariostea) +2:15. Selected: 16 S Roche (Irl, Carrera) s/t; 18 R Millar (GB, TVM) +2:33. 24 G Bugno (It, Gatorade) 3:34. 119 S Yates (GB, Motorola) +31:12. Overall standings: 1 Indurain 71hr 50min 8sec; 2 Mejia +3min 23sec; 3 Jaskula +4:45; 4 Rominger +5:44; 5 B Riis (Den, Ariostea) +10:26; 6 A Hampsten (US, Motorola) +13:30; 7 Chiappucci +14:11; 8 Bruyneel +14:54; 9 V Poulnikov (Ukr, Carrera) +15:08; 10 Delgado +16:09; 11 Rincon +19:41; 12 Martin +22:33; 13 E Breukink (Neth, ONCE) +23:52; 14 J-P Dojwa (Fr, Festina) +23:56; 15 G Faresin (It, ZG Mobili) +24:06. Selected: 17 Bugno +25:30. 18 Roche +26:15; 29 Millar +35:15. 81 Yates 1:26:42.

King of the Mountains: 1 Rominger 275pts; 2 Rincon 220; 3 Indurain 169.

Points leader: 1 D Abdoujaparov (Uzb, Lampre) 228; 2 L Jalabert (Fr, ONCE) 190; 3 M Sciandri (It, Motorola) 144.

(photograph and map omitted)