Chanting his name from Turin through to the Gap finish, some wore plastic Viking helmets. All wore big grins, and Rolf Sorensen rated it close to the biggest disappointment of his life that he could not give his countrymen more to chant about.
Five hundred metres from the finish line, the Dane's lone drive for victory came to an end as he was engulfed by a mass of sprinting riders after he had been chased down a mountain road into Gap.
Two years ago Sorensen won a Tour stage at Montpellier to match the previous day's victory by Riis in Albi, but Riis would not have been dismayed by yesterday's outcome. It may not have been a Danish triumph, but his German team-mate, Erik Zabel, got his front wheel to the line first, and from that success another Tour jersey fell to Riis's Deutsche Telekom squad.
After Riis's win on Monday at Sestriere, his fellow Dane felt it was appropriate to repeat the 1994 act. He fought off a strong challenge from the Italian Bruno Cenghialta, who had him in sight at one point and appeared poised to pounce, but in the finishing straight he could feel the hot breath of the pack on his back. He glanced behind and eased up, and in that final stretch lost 28 seconds as 40 riders swept past, with Zabel leading the charge.
Sorensen's chagrin was nothing to that of the French. Zabel had ousted the Frenchman Frederic Moncassin from the green points jersey that he had held for a week after losing the yellow.
Earlier on the 208km (129 miles) leg, Laurent Jalabert, who had raised French hopes that he was a Tour victor in the making over the past two years, lowered them with a bump. The world No 1, suffering with gastroenteritis, retired without making it back into France on his bike.
It was 20km from the border that a fatigued Jalabert stopped riding, but his compatriots were far from finished. Jacky Durand had tried and failed to make a clean break after gaining nearly four minutes on the main field.
Then Laurent Madouas forged ahead, and from a counter-attack the Latvian Piotr Ugrumov, Jan Ullrich, another Telekom find, and Richard Virenque joined him for a ride through the kind of countryside that inspires the production of picture postcards.
Virenque, covered in the red spots of the mountains jersey, could be France's saviour on the Paris podium come 21 July. His aim yesterday was maximum mountain points at the top of Montgenevre. He got them and another seven at the summit of the Col de la Sentinelle to strengthen his quest for a hat-trick of these jerseys.
They were eventually drawn in when Ullrich refused to help his co-leaders with the pace-making, and the most promising move of the day died after a spirited ride that lasted for 70km.
Huge crowds gathered outside his lodgings when Napoleon stopped in Gap on his return from exile in Elba more than 180 years ago. He is said to have cleared a blocked chimney by firing his pistol up the flue. He then appeared at the window, somewhat sooty, to reassure the crowd.
Now only Virenque can play Napoleon to the demands of the French fans. Apart from his mountaineering ability, he is also seventh overall, and the only Frenchman in sight of the yellow jersey.
Today is the riders' official rest day but yesterday six of them, including Jalabert, decided it was time they took a longer rest. Among them was the Belgian champion Johan Bruyneel, who has an Achilles tendon injury, and given that he suffered the alarming experience of plunging from a mountain pass three days ago, he is fortunate that is all that is damaged.
The race resumes tomorrow with a 202km (126 miles) leg from Gap to Valence with a series of small mountains that could do as much damage as one major Alpine peak.
Chris Boardman is now at the point where he was in 1994 when he completed 11 days in his first Tour. With Moncassin's jersey challenge weakened, he could have the freedom to try for a stage win.
Greater matters occupy Miguel Indurain. The Spaniard is still 4min 38sec away from that sixth year in the yellow jersey, and Riis, with a lead of 40sec over the Russian Yevgeny Berzin, looks ready to take on all comers.
TOUR DE FRANCE 10th stage (208km, 129 miles, Turin, It, to Gap, Fr): 1 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom 5hr 8min 10sec; 2 D Abdoujaparov (Uzbek) Refin; 3 A Ferrigato (It) Rabobank; 4 F Baldato (It) MG Technogym; 5 E Magnien (Fr) Festina; 6 A Bertolini (It) Brescialat; 7 F Frattini (It) Gewiss; 8 V Ekimov (Rus) Rabobank; 9 M Fondriest (It) Roslotto; 10 L Dufaux (Swit) Festina; 11 A Olano (Sp) Mapei; 12 L Roux (Fr) TVM; 13 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto; 14 R Virenque (Fr) Festina; 15 M Fernandez Gines (Sp) Mapei; 16 M Boogerd (Neth) Rabobank; 17 T Rominger (Swit) Mapei; 18 P Richard (Swit) MG Technogym; 19 Y Berzin (Rus) Gewiss; 20 B Riis (Den) Deutsche Telekom all same time. GB: 42 C Boardman GAN +1min 06sec; 131 M Sciandri Motorola +7:51.
Overall standings: 1 Riis 47hr 59min 03sec; 2 Berzin +40sec; 3 Rominger +56; 4 Olano +56; 5 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom +1min 37sec; 6 P Luttenberger (Aut) Carrera +2:38; 7 Virenque +3:39; 8 Indurain +4:38; 9 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +4:49; 10 Dufaux +5:03; 11 P Ugrumov (Rus) Roslotto +5:27; 12 L Leblanc (Fr) Polti +7:08; 13 A Zulle (Swit) Once 8:27; 14 U Bolts (Ger) Telekom +8:43; 15 A Garmendia (Sp) Once +9:07; 16 L Piepoli (It) Refin +10:04; 17 B Hamburger (Den) TVM +10:32; 18 F Gines +11:04; 19 Ekimov +11:52; 20 S Cattai (It) Roslotto +18:36. GB: 34 Boardman +33:14; 98 Sciandri +1hr 05min 30sec.Reuse content