Yesterday, on the road to Boulogne, Boardman overcame the threat to his yellow jersey posed by Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, who haunts the Tour de France pack, mostly scaring his fellow sprinters.
Boardman, who became the first Briton to take the tour lead in 32 years by winning the prologue on Saturday, was braced for the worst as the second stage began in Roubaix. 'This is the day we could lose the jersey because the sprinters are going for the points and the bonuses,' he said.
The outcome was cheering for Britain, as Boardman kept his lead of 15 seconds over Miguel Indurain, the three-times Tour victor, but Polti's plans for Abdujaparov fell apart.
A breakaway by the Frenchman Jacky Durand and the New Zealander Stephen Swart swept up vital time deductions, known as bonuses, which Abdoujaparov hunts regularly at each day's intermediate sprints.
Durand and Swart led for 120 kilometres, depriving him of a possible maximum gain of 12 seconds before being drawn in by the efforts of the French team Gan, on behalf of Boardman, and the Italian squad Polti, representing the Uzbekistani's interests.
Everything was poised for another mass sprint finish at Boulogne. This time there were no photographers from the gendarmerie to spoil the sprinters' day, but Abdoujaparov, lacking team support in the drive for the line, found himself trapped by ambitious rivals.
He finished sixth, waving angrily at team-mates behind him, as the Dutchman Jean-Paul van Poppel snatched his ninth Tour stage win, and a time deduction of 20 seconds wearing unfamiliar colours, the red polka dot jersey of the best mountain climber. He earned a day in the jersey when he was involved in a breakaway on Sunday that led the Tour over a few minor hills into Armentieres.
It needed a photograph to split Van Poppel and the German Olaf Ludwig at the line yesterday. A tyre's thickness at the most gave it to the Dutchman, and Abdoujaparov could only tot up what might have been. Had he taken two of the three intermediate sprints and won the stage, he would have taken the colours from Boardman. It was not an outside chance but a realistic opportunity which he missed.
'If we had lost the jersey, perhaps we could have got it back in the team time trial,' Boardman said. 'We now have to wait and see. Our team is strong but there are some who will be stronger.'
The time of the fifth rider from each of the nine-man squads to cross the line at the Eurotunnel entrance in today's 65km team time trial from Calais is the one that counts. Any member of a team after that time begins to lose time on his faster team-mates.
After the frantic skirmishing of the sprinters, the Tour returns to watching the flickering screen of the timing clock, which is just as nerve-wracking especially when two historic days in southern England depend on it.
The sprinters, Laurent Jalabert of France and the Belgian Wilfried Nelissen, injured in Sunday's crash in Armentieres, are to stay in hospital for the next few days.
TOUR DE FRANCE Second stage (Roubaix to Boulogne, 203km): 1 J-P Van Poppel (Neth) Festina 5hr 5min 40sec; 2 O Ludwig (Ger) Telekom; 3 S Martinello (It) Mercatone-Uno; 4 F Simon (Fr) Castorama; 5 J Museeuw (Bel) GB-MG; 6 D Abdoujaparov (Uzb) Polti; 7 L Desbiens (Fr) Castorama; 8 A Edo (Sp) Kelme; 9 F Fontanelli (It) Mobili; 10 A Tchmil (Rus) Lotto; 11 R Harmeling (Neth) TVM; 12 P Chanteur (Fr) Chazal; 13 B Zberg (Swit) Carrera; 14 E Magnien (Fr) Castorama; 15 G- J Theunisse (Neth) TVM; 16 G Petito (It) Mercatone-Uno; 17 A de las Cuevas (Fr) Castorama; 18 P Anderson (Aus) Motorola; 19 B Hamburger (Den) TVM; 20 H Redant (Bel) Mobili all same time. Selected: 36 S Yates (GB) Motorola; 39 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei-Clas; 51 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto; 54 C Boardman (GB) Gan; 55 S Hodge (Aus) ONCE; 67 C Chiappucci (It) Carrera; ; 72 G LeMond (US) Gan; 93 S Bauer (Can) Motorola; all s/t as winner.
Overall: 1 Boardman 10hr 59min 45sec; 2 Indurain +15sec; 3 Rominger +19; 4 Ludwig +20; 5 Abdoujaparov +21; 6 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE +22; 7 Museeuw +23; 8 Cuevas +24; 9 T Marie (Fr) Castorama +29; 10 E Seigneur (Fr) Gan +30; 11 J Durand (Fr) Castorama +31; 12 Chiappucci +33; 13 A Peron (It) Polti +34; 14 T Davy (Fr) Castorama +35; 15 P Ugrumov (Rus) Gewiss- Ballan s/t; 16 E Breukink (Neth) ONCE +36; 17 V Ekimov (Rus) WordPerfect +37; 18 G Bontempi (It) Gewiss-Ballan s/t; 19 Van Poppel s/t; 20 A Olano (Sp) Mapei-Clas s/t. Selected: 49 Yates +51.
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