Jalabert savours the pleasure of yellow

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Laurent Jalabert sprinted into his first yellow jersey in the Tour de France yesterday, exactly a year after the same fast finishing put him in hospital.

The Frenchman missed out in the victory sprint which fell to the Italian, Mario Cipollini, but mounted the victory podium to take over the colours of race leader.

Jalabert was carried unconscious, with a broken jaw, from the finishing straight in Armentieres last year, after a gendarme taking a photograph was struck by a sprinting rider, causing a pile-up.

Jalabert added a touch of nostalgia to his Tour renaissance by winning an intermediate sprint at St Meen-La-Grand, the birthplace of Louison Bobet, a revered hero of Brittany who won three Tours in the 1950s.

That success earned Jalabert six seconds in time deductions and ousted his compatriot, Jacky Durand, from the overall lead he took after Saturday's rain-wrecked time-trial.

Jalabert's rapier-like sprint claimed another four seconds in two other sprints on the roads of Brittany, and his day's tally of 10 made him leader by five seconds from another Frenchman, Laurent Brochard.

"For an anniversary it is the best gift you can dream of," Jalabert said. "The 3rd of July is a date I will remember all my life. I won't be able to forget it for two very different reasons - and I prefer this one to be quite frank."

He had warned of such a return when he opened his season significantly by winning the Paris to Nice race, the Milan-San Remo classic, and the Criterium International.

Although Jalabert is from the gorges of the Tarn, his success adds to the romance of cycling in Brittany, which has given the Tour the five- times winner, Bernard Hinault, and, in 1947, Jean Robic, who told his bride-to-be: "I have no dowry, but I offer victory in the Tour."

Although the focus was on Jalabert, Cipollini reasserted his claims to the world's fastest finisher title. As the finishing sprint reached its climax in Vitre, known as the Gate of Brittany, the six-footer slammed the door of success in the faces of fellow Italian Giovanni Lombardi and Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, of Uzkbekistan.

This second stage was a scene set for sprinters, with nothing too testing throughout its 235 kilometres from the coastal town of Perros-Guirec. Several riders attempted to rewrite the script, but ran out of ink in the last kilometre.

There were tears in a few eyes for GAN, the team of the injured Chris Boardman. They were further weakened when Eddy Seigneur, the winner of the final stage in Paris last year, pulled out after 24km with tendinitis.

GAN face today's team time-trial with only seven riders, and even with the full complement of nine, it will be a long hard 67km between Mayenne and Alencon.

It could even bring another change of jersey-wearer, but Jalabert has the backing of one of the strongest teams, Spain's ONCE, who organise the national lottery for the disabled.

If last year's form is any guide, there could be a British influence on today's victory podium. Max Sciandri, born in Derby of an Italian father, rides for MG Technogym, who last year took the yellow jersey from Boardman. This year they seem more powerful. Second then was the cosmopolitan Motorola squad, driven by the Sussex powerhouse Sean Yates, who remembers 1994 for his day in the famous colours.

TOUR DE FRANCE Second stage, (235km, Perros-Guirec to Vitre) Leading positions: 1 M Cipollini (It) Mercatone Uno, 5hr 26min 35sec; 2 G Lombardi (It) Polti; 3 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Novell; 4 F Baldato (It) MG Technogym; 5 F Moncassin (Fr) Novell; 6 B Hamburger (Den) TVM; 7 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE; 8 F Frattini (It) Gewiss Ballan; 9 B Riis (Den) Gewiss Ballan; 10 A Gonchenkov (Ukr) Lampre; 11 B Thibout (Fr) Castorama; 12 L Madouas (Fr) Castorama; 13 P Lanfranchi (It) Brescialat; 14 K Ozers (Lith) Motorola; 15 L Brochard (Fr) Festina; 16 S Martinello (It) Mercatone Uno; 17 G Bugno (It) MG Technogym; 18 A Tafi (It) Mapei GB; 19 G Bortolami (It) Mapei GB; 20 Y Berzin (Russia) Gewiss Ballan all same time. GB: 57 M Sciandri (MG Technogym) +19sec; 146 S Yates (Motorola) same time.

Leading overall standings: 1 Jalabert 11hr 24min 50sec; 2 Brochard +5sec; 3 Thibout 12; 4 J Durand (Fr) Castorama, +22; 5 T Laurent (Fr) Castorama, +24; 6 M Mauri (Sp) ONCE, +25; 7 Baldato +26; 8 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE; 9 A Gonzales (Sp) Mapei GB, both same time; 10 F Andreu (US) Motorola, +27; 11 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei GB, +29; 12 S Outschakov (Rus) Polti, +31; 13 Lombardi same time; 14 J Bruyneel (Bel) ONCE, +32; 15 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto, +34; 16 Y Ledanois (Fr) GAN, +35; 17 V Aparicio (Sp) Banesto; 18 Madouas same time; 19 D Baldinger (Ger) Polti, +36; 20 Abdoujaparov, +37. GB: 58 Sciandri +1min 14sec; 89 Yates +1:35.

Points classification leaders (green jersey): 1 Abdoujaparov 66pts; 2 Jalabert 65; 3 Baldato 63.

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

Team competition leaders: 1 Castorama 34hr 14min 50sec; 2 Mapei GB +37sec; 3 ONCE +42.