Cycling / Tour de France: Zuelle sprint pips Indurain

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The Independent Online
AS SURE as blazing saddles will follow blazing cars, the Tour de France launched into the verdant countryside of the Basques to emerge with a Swiss born of a Dutch mother giving the Spanish most to shout about.

Alex Zuelle, in his first Tour, took the race lead from the pride of the Basques, Miguel Indurain, by winning an intermediate sprint worth a deduction of six seconds from his race time in the first stage over 194 wet and windy kilometres. It wiped out the overnight lead of two seconds that the local hero had established over Zuelle in winning Saturday's opening time trial in this Basque port. A 24th birthday to remember for Zuelle, and another day to cheer for home fans as he is sponsored by ONCE, a Spanish lottery that aids the handicapped.

He knows, however, that the dream cannot last. Team manager Manuel Saiz is expected to pull him out of the Tour after some 12 days. It is a formula that has worked for Jose-Miguel Echavarri, the man behind the Tour successes of Indurain and Pedro Delgado. Give a rider with potential a taste and his hunger grows, but never force-feed him.

The closing stages of yesterday's out-and-back leg from San Sebastian required a great chase by team-mates to ensure that Zuelle would pull on the yellow jersey of Tour leader. Frenchman Dominique Arnould won the stage and, with time deductions, moved to within two seconds of Zuelle with Indurain a further two seconds behind.

In the last three kilometres Arnould escaped from compatriot Pascal Lino and Italian Alberto Elli, his co-leaders for the final 40 kilometres. They were pursued by a 50-strong pack, and then Arnould was nearly swamped by pursuers on the finish line, where the Belgian champion Johan Museeuw held off Italy's Maximilian Sciandri for second place with Zuelle, Indurain and other major contenders safely in the pack.

Like Zuelle, Sciandri can claim an international following. Born in Derby where his father met his British mother, yesterday's performance, like his stage victories in the Tour of Italy, will be hailed in Bournemouth, home of his mother's parents, and Los Angeles, where his parents run a restaurant. Sciandri spent six childhood years in Britain, lives in Italy, and races for American sponsors, Motorola.

Sciandri has scored 13 professional wins in four years, but for Zuelle success has been swift. Since turning professional last autumn he has totted up some impressive results, but his impatience for success almost lost him to the sport. When he failed to get a place with a Swiss pro team, he threatened to quit, saying, 'I am so strong and successful but what is the point?'

Saiz soon benefited as Zuelle, a fine all-rounder, won the Catalan Week and the Tour of Asturias, and was good enough for the Tour of Spain. There he took a second and a third before stomach trouble intervened. 'The yellow jersey is a dream,' he said yesterday, 'and I will realise later what it really means.'

TOUR DE FRANCE First Stage (San Sebastian, 194km): 1 D Arnould (Fr) 4hr 37min 39sec; 2 J Museeuw (Bel), 3 M Sciandri (It), 4 J Skibby (Den), 5 H Maier (Aut), 6 R Virenque (Fr), 7 R Golz (Ger), 8 M Sergeant (Bel) 9 S Kelly (Irl), 10 J Heppner (Ger), 11 F Chioccioli (It), 12 L Jalabert (Fr), 13 R Alcala (Mex), 14 E Alonso (Sp), 15 A Leanizbarrutia (Sp), 16 R Sorensen (Den), 17 L Roosen (Bel), 18 S Rooks (Neth), 19 M Indurain (Sp), 20 S Roche (Irl) all same time. Selected: 40 G LeMond (US), 50 M Earley (Irl), 67 R Millar (GB) all s/t; 152 S Yates (GB) +7:25.

Overall standings: 1 A Zuelle (Swit) 4hr 46min 57sec; 2 Arnould +2sec; 3 Indurain +4; 4 A de las Cuevas (Fr) +15; 5 R Alcala (Mex) +16; 6 G Bugno (It) +16; 7 V Ekimov (CIS) +17; 8 E Breukink (Neth) +18; 9 P Lino (Fr) 18; 10 LeMond +18; 11 Museeuw +21; 12 Golz +22; 13 Sciandri +23; 14 Roche +24; 15 Sorensen +26; 16 Skibby +26; 17 J-C Robin (Fr) +27; 18 Leanizbarrutia +27; 19 R Jaermann (Swit) +27; 20 L Leblanc (Fr) +28. Selected: 41 Kelly +43; 44 Millar +44; 65 Earley +1:06; 148 Yates +8:16. Points standings: 1 Arnould 27; 2 Museeuw 22; 3 Sciandri 20; 4 Zuelle 18; 5 Skibby 18; 6 Indurain 17; 7 Maier 16; 8 Virenque 15; 9 Golz 14; 10 Sergeant 13. King of the Mountain: 1 Chioccioli 20pts; 2 C Chiappucci (It) 15; 3 A Hampsten (US) 12; 4 Breukink 10; 5 Roche 8; 6 Indurain 6; 7 Arnould 5; 8 Zuelle 5; 9 Bugno 4; 10 Leblanc 3.

(Maps omitted)