With time running out for the Crown Princes of the sprint, Laurent Jalabert is making a valiant drive to regain the lead he lost three days ago in a crash before King Miguel takes the throne.
Jalabert, true to his warning, yesterday cut his deficit to eight seconds on the new leader, Denmark's Bjarne Riis. The Dane leapfrogged his Italian team-mate, Ivan Gotti, to go two seconds clear of him with Jalabert, once 40 seconds adrift, now in third place.
Today is his last chance as the race rides through the Ardennes to Liege. Thereafter the yellow jersey of the Tour leader should be on Spanish shoulders.
Miguel Indurain, seeking a record fifth Tour triumph, is 49 seconds away from the jersey which Gotti has kept warm for two days hoping that it would go to his Russian team-mate, Evgeny Berzin Tomorrow's 54km time trail, where Indurain should rule, is the doorstep to the Alpine offensive, which opens on Tuesday.
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, seeking his fourth green jersey for consistent finishing, retook the colours yesterday as the overnight leader, Italy's Mario Cipollini, missed out in all but one sprint.
Ambition overflows in the Tour, but Max Sciandri, currently 27th, has thoughts even further afield. The Italian is prepared to pay his own way to Colombia to represent Britain in the World Road Race Championship in October.
That is some small relief to the British Federation, who this week stepped up their appeal for the pounds 30,000 they need to send a team.
After Colombia had been awarded the championships the International Olympic Committee announced that the championships would serve as a qualifier for next year's Games. That immediately demanded the extra expense of high altitude preparation instead of cutting back on team numbers to reduce pressure on an already stretched budget.
Frustrated at being passed over by Italy, Sciandri has turned to Britain. He took out a British racing licence this year and although a Tour training camp with his MG Technogym kept him away from the British Road Race Championship he is anxious to represent Britain.
"I want to do it for myself, for Britain, and for my team. And it is not a financial problem for me," Sciandri said. "I am Italian, my children were born there and are being raised there. But I still think I can do something for Britain."
If he is selected it will not be because he can afford to buy his ticket. Sciandri has the talent, as he showed in winning in 1992 the Kelloggs Tour of Britain and stages in the Tour of Italy.
"We will be very interested in his representing Britain," Ian Emmerson, the Federation president, said. "Before this offer he was on our list of possibles anyway."
TOUR DE FRANCE Sixth stage (Dunkerque to Charleroi, 126.25 miles): 1 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom-ZG 4hr 30min 57sec; 2 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE; 3 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Novell; 4 J Svorada (Slov) Lampre; 5 G Lombardi (It) Polti; 6 B Thibout (Fr) Castorama; 7 J Durand (Fr) Castorama all same time; 8 A Tchmil (Rus) Lotto +3sec; 9 C Bomans (Bel) Mapei GB; 10 O Ludwig (Ger) Telekom-ZG; 11 J Museeuw (Bel) Mapei GB; 12 C Capelle (Fr) GAN; 13 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto; 14 B Riis (Den) Gewiss Ballan; 15 G Bouvard (Fr) Chazal all same time; 16 A Gontchenkov (Ukr) Lampre +6; 17 M de Clercq (Bel) Lotto; 18 M Fondriest (It) Lampre; 19 B Hamburger (Den) TVM; 20 V Ekimov (Rus) all same time. British placings: 141 M Sciandri MG Technogym 6secs; 170 S Yates Motorola 3:11.
Leading overall standings: 1 Riis 26hr 41min 53sec; 2 I Gotti (It) Gewiss Ballan +2; 3 Jalabert +8; 4 M Mauri (Sp) ONCE +19; 5 A Zuelle (Swi) ONCE +20; 6 J Bruyneel (Bel) ONCE +26; 7 Y Berzin (Rus) Gewiss Ballan +29; 8 F Frattini (It) Gewiss Ballan +32; 9 B Cenghialta (It) Gewiss Ballan +43; 10 Indurain +49; 11 V Aparicio (Sp) Banesto +53; 12 M Rojas (Sp) ONCE +55; 13 G Colombo (It) Gewiss Ballan +56; 14 E Breukink (Neth) ONCE +1:10; 15 A Gonzales (Sp) Mapei GB +1:18; 16 T Rominger (Swi) +1:21; 17 J Mauleon (Sp) Mapei GB +1:30; 18 F Escartin (Sp) Mapei GB +1:32; 19 J R Uriarte (Sp) Banesto +1:35; 20 A Tafi (It) Mapei GB +1:42. British placings: 27 Sciandri 2:06; 142 Yates 8:41. Points classification: 1 Abdoujaparov 141pts; 2 Jalabert 130; 3 M Cipollini (It) Mercatone Uno 108. King of the Mountains: 1 D Konyshev (Rus) AKI Gipiemme 25pts; 2 R Virenque (Fr) Festina 23; 3 F Simon (Fr) Castorama 16. Overall team leaders: 1 G Ballan (It) 80hr 4min 52sec; 2 ONCE (Sp) +1:25; 3 Banesto (Sp) +3:40.Reuse content