This is a tale of two Tours. The major affair involving a large Dane, Bjarne Riis, and his yellow jersey took a day off yesterday but nine men went to work just the same.
Pascal Richard, Swiss and ambitious, recognised the potential as the contenders dozed like cats in the sun, each warily watching and waiting in case one of the others pounced. The move when it came after the first 10 of yesterday's 143km (90 miles) was no real threat to Riis, and Richard and his eight co-leaders made the most of it to hoist themselves higher in the standings.
Notables among the leaders were the Dutchmen Erik Breukink and Danny Nelissen, the Dane Jesper Skibby, and Spain's Melchor Mauri, and their work-rate gave fans crowding the five hills on the road from Valence something to shout about.
Richard was highest placed of the leaders, 43min and 59sec from the top spot overnight. His victory in the 12th stage at Le Puy-en-Velay took him to 31st with 28:45 between him and Riis.
Richard, once a world champion in cycling's winter sport, cyclocross, usually manages a class win once or twice a year. Yesterday the second Tour stage success of his career was added to a similar triumph in last month's Tour of Italy and his victory in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic.
Riis and company were still 10km from the finish when Richard was being kissed by the presentation girls on the podium after outsprinting Denmark's Jesper Skibby and Italian Mirco Gualdi.
Richard is using the Tour as part of his build-up for the Olympic Games road race in Atlanta at the end of the month.
Briefly it switched Swiss attention from the ballooning right knee of Tony Rominger, but the injured party insists that given two or three days it will be in working order. "An easy day like this helps me to recover from the fall," he said, still nurturing third overall, 53sec behind Riis, and like his co-contenders wondering when Miguel Indurain will strike.
Riis is unconcerned, at the moment. No one has tested him yet. The Dane and his entourage rolled into Le Puy almost at the same pace as the hordes of pilgrims who visit this Auvergne town made famous by apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages.
Looking precariously lodged on one of the many extinct volcanic mounds of the region is a 16-metre high statue of Our Lady of France which was made from 213 cannons taken at the battle of Sebastopol. Even more precarious was the bungee jumper who plummeted from a viaduct on the route as the race passed underneath, but his plunge hardly stirred the sleeping giants of the Tour.
TOUR DE FRANCE 12th stage (90 miles, Valence to Le Puy-en-Velay): 1 P Richard (Swit) MG Technogym 3hr 29min 19sec; 2 J Skibby (Den) TVM; 3 M Gualdi (It) Polti; 4 D Nelissen (Neth) Rabobank all same time; 5 F G Casas (Sp) Festina +3sec; 6 F Vanzella (It) Motorola; 7 E Breukink (Neth) Rabobank; 8 M Mauri (Sp) ONCE all s/t; 9 L Roux (Fr) TVM +12; 10 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +15min 14sec; 11 F Baldato (It) MG Technogym; 12 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN; 13 S Biasci (It) SAECO; 14 L Brochard (Fr) Festina; 15 V Ekimov (Rus) Rabobank; 16 J-C Colotti (Fr) Agrigel; 17 A Tchmil (Ukr) Lotto; 18 F Simon (Fr) GAN; 19 M Siboni (It) Carrera; 20 T Steinhauser (Ger) Refin all s/t. GB: 43 C Boardman GAN +15:14.
Overall standings: 1 B Riis (Den) Deutsche Telekom 56hr 55min 59sec; 2 Y Berzin (Rus) Gewiss +40sec; 3 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei +53; 4 A Olano (Sp) Mapei +56; 5 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +1min 38sec; 6 P Luttenberger (Aut) Carrera +2:38; 7 R Virenque (Fr) Festina +3:39; 8 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto +4:38; 9 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +4:49; 10 L Dufaux (Swit) Festina +5:03; 11 P Ugrumov (Lat) Roslotto +5:27; 12 L Leblanc (Fr) Polti +7:08; 13 M F Gines (Sp) Mapei +8:14; 14 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE +8:27; 15 U Bolts (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +8:43; 16 A Garmendia (Sp) ONCE +9:07; 17 L Piepoli (It) Refin +10:04; 18 B Hamburger (Den) TVM +10:32; 19 V Ekimov (Rus) Raboban +11:52; 20 J Skibby (Den) TVM +12:43. GB: 36 Boardman +33:14. Other categories: Mountains (red polka dot jersey): 1 Virenque 196; 2 Riis 115; 3 Rominger 107; 4 Leblanc 95; 5 Brochard 94. Points (green jersey): 1 Zabel 220pts; 2 Moncassin 185; 3 Baldato 154; 4 J Blijlevens (Neth) TVM 121; 5 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Refin 87.Reuse content