Cycling: Tour toilers are made to suffer

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The Independent Online
Deep in the Tour de France, Max Sciandri exists from day to day surrounded by weary bodies and fading ambition, and blaming a "badly designed" course for exacting a heavy toll.

The Italian with a British birthright gave Britain its first Olympic road racing medal for 40 years last summer in Atlanta, but he is frustrated by the competitive ferocity that has produced an average speed on the Tour this year of around 25 miles per hour. He is still anxious to repeat his win in a stage during the 1995 race, but he is running out of time, with Paris only three racing days away.

"The first nine days killed a lot of riders," he said. "The speed was so high that I could not do anything. Then we had the Pyrenees and the Alps together. There is also a lot of travelling between stages. I was getting to the dinner table as late as 9.30, so there was no chance of recovery between races.

"After I tried an attack I could not recuperate. I felt bad and could not breathe. It's the result of the Tour being so hard."

Sciandri is just one example among a total of 139 riders left in the race. He has fallen more than two and a half hours behind Jan Ullrich, who is pedalling toward Germany's first Tour triumph, six minutes and 22 seconds clear of the Frenchman, Richard Virenque.

Yesterday Didier Rous gave Virenque's Festina team their second consecutive stage win following Wednesday's success by the Australian, Neil Stephens. It was their fourth win of the Tour and gave France its most successful year since 1992, when there were a total of six stage victories for the home nation.

A solo ride of 75 kilometres put Rous five minutes and nine seconds clear of his team-mate, Pascal Herve, at the finish as the "heads" of the Tour took a day off, finishing almost five and a half minutes after Rous.

Not since 1979 have the Tour riders lost so much time. Then the 16th placed overall was more than an hour behind. Yesterday Christophe Moreau, of France, who is in 19th position overall, was more than an hour in arrears. With three more days' racing still to go, the gap is likely to widen.

The last man, Philippe Gaumont, is four hours and 25 minutes adrift. It is already the biggest margin between leader and last man for 24 years.

Chepe Gonzalez, the smallest racer in the Tour, became another statistic yesterday. The Colombian was the 57th racer to retire from the race. He had conquered the Dolomites last month to win the best climber jersey in the Giro d'Italia, had ridden 303 kilometres up the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps in this Tour, but the Grand Ballon, an impressive bump in the Alsace countryside, was a hill too far.

Troubled by a knee injury, he stopped short of the 1,360-metre climb and joined an illustrious tally of drop-outs. The Belgian rider Johan Museeuw, the world road race champion and World Cup winner, added his name to the list yesterday because of a stomach upset.

However, Bjarne Riis, Denmark's Tour victor last year, is recovering from a stomach disorder brought on by a pain-killing tablet. "Now I feel that I can make it to Paris," he said, relieved at not joining an ABC of the fallen that runs from Abdoujaparov (Djamolidine, of Uzbekistan) to Zulle (Alex, of Switzerland).

The Russian Yevgeny Berzin and the Swiss Tony Rominger fractured collar- bones, and Zulle retired to save his recently repaired collar-bone from further harm. Ivan Gotti (neck), Mario Cipollini (knee) and Chris Boardman (neck) were other casualties from crashes.

Abdoujaparov fell from grace after a positive drug test, and the Belgian champion, Tom Steels, was thrown out for throwing a plastic bottle at a rival.

Fatigue, illness, and injury have taken care of the rest, but yesterday Benoit Salmon was caught speeding. The Frenchman was seen hanging on to his team car at 60 kph. That, plus other minor sins, earned him a ticket home.


TOUR DE FRANCE 18th stage (Colmar to Montbeliard, 175km): 1 D Rous (Fr) Festina 4hr 24min 48sec; 2 P Herve ( Fr) Festina +5:09; 3 B Julich (US) Cofidis +5:10; 4 L Roux ( Fr) TVM; 5 A Casero (Sp) Banesto; 6 J-C Robin (Fr) US Postal all same time; 7 L Dufaux (Swit) Festina +5:12; 8 D Nardello (It) Mapei +5:14; 9 M Beltran (Sp) Banesto same time; 10 L Madouas (Fr) Lotto +5:16; 11 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom +5:29; 12 G Fagnini (It) Saeco ; 13 T Gouvenou (Fr) Big Mat; 14 P Chanteur (Fr) Casino; 15 J Arrieta (Sp) Banesto; 16 M Artunghi (It) Mercatone Uno; 17 D Sgnaolin (It) Roslotto; 18 F Simon (Fr) GAN; 19 G Hincapie (US) US Postal; 20 O Camenzind (Switzerland) Mapei all same time. Others: 29 R Virenque (Fr) Festina +5:29; 37 A Olano (Sp) Banesto; 51 B Riis (Den) Telekom; 76 M Sciandri (GB) Francaise des Jeux; 86 L Jalabert (Fr) Once, all same time.

Overall standings: 1 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom 90hr 58min 3sec; 2 Virenque +6:22; 3 M Pantani (It) Mercatone Uno +10:13; 4 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +16:05; 5 Olano +16:40; 6 F Casagrande (It) Saeco +17:14; 7 Riis +18:07; 8 J Jimenez (Sp) Banesto +23:42; 9 R Conti (It) Mercatone Uno +28:20; 10 Dufaux +29:29; 11 B Zberg (Swit) Mercatone Uno +31:39; 12 Camenzind +32:38; 13 P Luttenberger (Aut) Rabobank +38:16; 14 Beltran +43:00; 15 Robin +53:07; 16 M Boogerd (Neth) Rabobank +55:11; 17 Nardello +56:24; 18 Julich +59:31; 19 C Moreau (Fr) Festina +1:00:37; 20 S Heulot (Fr) La Francaise des Jeux +1:00:54. Others: 44 Jalabert +1:55:12; 67 Sciandri +2: 33:17.

Points standings: 1 Zabel (Ger) Telekom 314pts; 2 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN 208; 3 J Blijlevens (Neth) TVM 168; 4 Virenque 149; 5 Ullrich; 6 M Traversoni (It) Mercatone Uno 142; 7 R McEwen (Aus) Rabobank 128; 8 N Minali (It) Batik 121; 9 F Simon (Fr) GAN 109; 10 Pantani (It) Mercatone Uno 105.

King of the Mountains standings: 1 Virenque 574pts; 2 Ullrich 328; 3 Casagrande 309; 4 Pantani 269; 5 L Brochard (Fr) Festina 238; 6 Dufaux 212; 7 Herve 176; 8 Escartin 141; 9 Riis 139; 10 Jimenez 136.