Moncassin stage win takes the heat off Boardman

Frederic Moncassin did his team-mate Chris Boardman a big favour with his victory on the second day of the Tour de France, and swung the spotlight away from his team leader.

After his yellow-jersey winning debut in the 1994 Tour Boardman found himself as No 1 and pressurised. "It was not because I was the best man for the job," he said. "There was no one else. Now there are others coming up who can share the pressure."

Moncassin arrived yesterday after a little drama and a Houdini-like recovery to edge out the Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens and Mario Cipollini.

The claim of the Italian champion Cipollini to be the "world's fastest finisher" was dented by the eager Frenchman as they battled out the sprint at the end of an edgy 209 kilometres on roads around Den Bosch and Eindhoven.

Moncassin was shut out by two riders, notably Cipollini, closing together in front of him as the serious sprinting began, but he had the presence of mind and the strength to take another route to victory. "My greatest victory, and against the best sprinters. Although I was a bit squeezed towards the end," he said.

The "squeezing" to which he referred put another dent in Cipollini's reputation as race officials decided that his sprinting tactics were "irregular". He was relegated from third to last of the leading group of 37.

Boardman missed that show, and finished 15sec later which cost him his overnight second placing. He slipped to eighth, 17sec behind the overall leader, Alex Zulle of Switzerland.

Boardman's second placing in Saturday's short time trial, his speciality, just two seconds slower than Zulle, was not what his public had hoped for, but Boardman knew it was his best in the circumstances. Uneasy as the crowned head of the GAN squad, he crashed out of last year's Tour trying hard to justify his role on a rain-soaked road. So Saturday's return to the Tour was not lacking in tension.

"Winning Saturday's prologue time trial was not the first objective," he said. "This is a three-week race not one of 10 minutes, but there was no reason why I could not have a go. When it rained on Saturday it was frustrating. I was not confident about my form but it was better than I thought. I took the corners really steady. There was no way I could risk falling again. Last year was in my mind most of the time."

Yesterday's circuit was not for the nervous, and Boardman was relieved to reach the finish without being involved in the crashes.

The leading Colombian Hernan Buenahora crashed out with a fractured hand, and the former world champion Luc Leblanc, who was stunned after a pile- up.

The slow pace for most of the winding route did not match the rousing reception the Tour received from the thousands lining the route even if they did make the riders a little twitchy.

"It was difficult enough, but there was a lot of stress because of the spectators," Moncassin said. "It was very dangerous."

Temporary grandstands mushroomed in gardens, factory sites, and car parks, as the Dutch took to the Tour, and brass bands blossomed at each town to accompany the fervour.

Today the race leaves for Wasquehal in France, taking in the Belgian cities of Antwerp and Ghent on the way.

TOUR DE FRANCE

DETAILS

Stage One (Den Bosch to Den Bosch, Neth, 209km, 129.8 miles): 1 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN 5hr 0min 1sec; 2 J Blijlevens (Neth) TVM; 3 J Svorada (Cz Rep) Panaria; 4 N Minali (It) Gewiss; 5 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom; 6 F Baldato (It) MG Technogym; 7 A Piziks (Lith) Rabobank; 8 S Colage (It) Refin; 9 C Capelle (Fr) Aubervilliers; 10 M Traversoni (It) Carrera. 11 N Mattan (Bel) Lotto; 12 R Sorensen (Den) Rabobank; 13 J Museeuw (Bel) Mapei; 14 A Tchmil (Ukr) Lotto; 15 P Savoldelli (It) Roslotto; 16 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE; 17 M Gualdi (It) Polti; 18 G Hincapie (US) Motorola; 19 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE; 20 P Ugrumov (Lat) Roslotto all s/t. Selected: 32 Y Berzin (Rus) Gewiss s/t; 39 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei +9; 55 C Boardman (GB) GAN +15; 64 M Sciandri (GB) Motorola s/t. Overall standings: 1 Zulle 5:10:54; 2 Berzin +3sec; 3 A Olano (Sp) Mapei +7; 4 Moncassin +9; 5 B Riis (Den) Deutsche Telekom +11; 6 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto +12; 7 Jalabert +15; 8 Boardman +17; 9 Rominger +19; 10 M Mauri (Sp) ONCE +21; 11 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank +26; 12 Gualdi +27; 13 Savoldelli +29; 14 J Skibby (Den) TVM +30; 15 Tchmil +31; 16 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +33; 17 S Heulot (Fr) GAN +36; 18 Sorensen +37; 19 R Virenque (Fr) Festina +38; 20 Svorada +39. Selected: 79 Sciandri +1min 07sec.

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
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<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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