Gotti denied his moment of fame

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with the Tour de France

A dream of a yellow jersey for the Italian unknown Ivan Gotti vanished in a pink blur in yesterday's team time trial to Alencon, the city of the dukes, where a Frenchman, Laurent Jalabert, still rules the Tour de France.

The combined efforts of Gotti's more illustrious team-mates, such as the Russian Evgeny Berzin, gave Gewiss Ballan victory with a 55kmh performance over 67 kilometres from Mayenne.

They returned in 1hr 13min 10sec, but once the Tour leader, Jalabert, and his squad, in their fluorescent pink jerseys, arrived Gotti's bubble burst.

Jalabert and his multi- national team, backed by ONCE, a lottery organisation, were 35 seconds slower, but his overall lead rose by three seconds to eight as the inevitable shake-out brought men from the faster teams into contention.

After four professional seasons without a win Gotti glimpsed success. His career is summed up simply: best Italian amateur in 1990. Now he is second overall in the Tour standings with Bjarne Riis, fifth overall in the 1993 Tour, third, one second behind him.

Jalabert wore a yellow crash helmet as his Tour crown, and the first threat to the throne showed after 22 kilometres when Gotti and company were 23 seconds faster than ONCE, who then were only fourth fastest on the road.

Twenty kilometres closer to Alencon they were second fastest, lagging 35 seconds behind Gotti's inspired team-mates, whose real goal in Tour life is to support Berzin through the tougher days to come in his first Tour. Last year he beat Miguel Indurain in the Tour of Italy, and suddenly Switzerland's Tony Rominger found he was not the only pretender to the Tour throne.

"Everyone is expecting something from me," Berzin said. "And I will be there. Because of my lack of experience it is difficult to fight against the experience of Indurain and Rominger, but my main asset is my physical condition. I hope it will be enough to beat them."

The surprise of the day was the fourth placing of Rominger's Mapei GB team, but the Swiss had a setback. "It was my only puncture since the last Tour," he said.

Jalabert is revelling in his colours, which he anticipates holding for some time. "Every day in the jersey is just great, but my day was spoilt a little because I was hidden among my team-mates."

Even a king has to remember that the crown is only safe so long as his subjects are loyal, and that is especially so in Normandy where William the Conqueror was not averse to particularly bloody reminders.

Today the race crosses the latest addition to Norman history, the 856- metre long Pont de Normandy, a road bridge that takes 20 minutes off the journey between Honfleur and Le Havre. There are, however, no short cuts in the Tour.

TOUR DE FRANCE Third stage, team time-trial (67km, Mayenne to Alencon) Leading positions: 1 Gewiss Ballan (It) 1hr 13min 10sec; 2 ONCE (Sp) +35sec; 3 Banesto (Sp) +59; 4 Mapei GB (It) +1min 33sec; 5 MG Technogym (It) same time; 6 Motorola (US) +1:59; 7 Festina (Andorra) +2:21; 8 Lampre (It) +2:27; 9 Castorama (Fr) +2:32; 10 Novell (Neth) +2:51; 11 Brescialat (It) +2:56; 12 Polti (It) +3:09; 13 Carrera (It) +3:11; 14 Telekom-ZG (Ger-It) +3:15; 15 Mercatone Uno (San Marino) +3:18; 16 AKI-Gipiemme (Monaco) +4:26; 17 TVM (Neth) +4:46; 18 GAN (Fr) +4:50; 19 Kelme (Sp) +5:01; 20 Chazal (Fr) 5:12.

Leading overall standings: 1 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE 12hr 38min 35sec; 2 I Gotti (It) Gewiss Ballan, +8sec; 3 B Riis (Den) Gewiss Ballan, +9; 4 G Colombo (It) Gewiss Ballan, +12; 5 M Mauri (Sp) ONCE, +25; 6 A Zuelle (Swit) ONCE, +26; 7 J Bruyneel (Bel) ONCE, +32; 8 E Berzin (Rus) Gewiss Ballan, +35; 9 F Frattini (It) Gewiss Ballan, +38; 10 B Cenghialta (It) Gewiss Ballan, +51; 11 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto, +58; 12 V Aparicio (Sp) Banesto, +59; 13 M Rojas (Sp) ONCE, +1min 01sec; 14 E Breukink (Neth) ONCE, 1:16; 15 F Baldato (It) MG Technogym, +1:24; 16 A Gonzales (Sp) Mapei GB, same time; 17 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei GB, 1:27; 18 G Bontempi (It) Gewiss Ballan, +1:36; 19 J Mauleon (Sp) Mapei GB, 1:38; 20 F Escartin (Sp) Mapei GB, 1:39. GB: 29 M Sciandri (MG Technogym), +2min 12sec; 51 S Yates (Motorola) +2:59.

Points classification leaders (green jersey):

1 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Novell, 66pts; 2 Jalabert, 65; 3 Baldato 63.

King of the Mountains leaders (red polka dot jersey): 1 F Simon (Fr) Castorama, 16 pts; 2 Peter de Clercq (Bel) Lotto 9; 3 D Konyshev (Rus) AKI Gipiemme, 6.

Team competition leaders: 1 Gewiss Ballan 37hr 55min 19 sec; 2 ONCE +1min 28sec; 3 Banesto +3:40.