Tour de France: A final dose of Paris pain

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The Independent Online
SIX YEARS ago, Chris Boardman shattered the world hour record in Bordeaux. Last night, more than two hours and 45 minutes behind Lance Armstrong, he slept 500 metres from the scene of his 1993 triumph, shattered from surviving 3,300km of the Tour de France.

"It feels good to have come this far," he said. For a man who has basked in success at Olympic, world and Tour level, the target these days is being able to race along the Champs Elysees on Sunday afternoon.

"When the results are not coming any more, it becomes a personal challenge to go the distance. Hourly you think, `why am I doing this?' It is one of the toughest challenges in sport."

Boardman has had it tougher than most. Only once out of five starts has he made it to Paris - in 1996. Having failed to complete his debut in 1994, he crashed out in 1995, while last year injury and illness ended his race. He has worn the leader's yellow jersey three times by winning the opening time trial, and his record speed five years ago for a Tour time trial still stands at 34.194mph.

Riders in the "autobus", cycling's name for the stragglers, face doubt daily. "The first day, in the Massif Central, I suffered, and the next was even worse. I thought I cannot go through that again." But he did. "The first day in the Pyrenees was almost it. I kept slipping out of the back of the field, and I had a puncture. This is it, I thought, but somehow I got back."

Struggling together binds riders. "We are a band formed out of mutual suffering. It may not be an appropriate simile, but it is just like coming through a war."

As for the future, this may be the last time Boardman aims for Paris. "I don't think I could go through this again," he said. "I just cannot contemplate finishing it next year."