Vasseur ends Cipollini's reign as leader of pack

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Cedric Vasseur produced a battleaxe stroke to blunt the sprinters' rapier thrusts when he ended Mario Cipollini's reign in the Tour de France with a solo run of 147 kilometres into La Chatre yesterday.

After five days in the leader's yellow jersey the Italian was braced for dethronement, but it came from an unexpected quarter as Chris Boardman's man succeeded where other teammates had failed.

Vasseur finished 2min and 32sec clear of Australian teammate Stuart O'Grady and third-placed Spanish rider Francisco Cabello to reclaim the colours Cipollini had taken from Boardman on day two in Forges-les-Eaux.

He is now 2:17 ahead of Cipollini who has German Erik Zabel just two seconds behind him with Boardman, 2:54 in arrears, in fourth place.

Vasseur was the type of French hero that George Sands, resident nearby in the mid-1800s, would have written into her romances. Instead he merits raves in the French press and a paragraph in Tour history.

"I wanted to win a stage, so the jersey is the cherry on my cake," Vasseur said. "It will remain one of the greatest moment in my career... It's like living a dream.''

As Zabel, only four seconds short of the yellow jersey, had the show snatched from under his nose, his Belgian team boss, Walter Godefroot, remembered Vasseur's dad, Alain, beating him to a Tour win 27 years ago in Felsberg.

Yesterday dad was at home watching his son score only the second victory of a four-year career with a solo that was not the Tour's longest.

After this Tour's constant skirmishing to snatch back seconds in sprints, the fast finishers capitulated yesterday as Vasseur, screamed on by thousands roasting under the sun, stretched his lead to almost 18 minutes.

He had started in Chantonnay 1:37 adrift of Cipollini, and when he sped away it had the hallmarks of the previous three days when his teammates and former team-mates tried to go it alone.

Cipollini and Zabel were left to fight for scraps, 3:24 after Vasseur had finished. They opened a new offensive yesterday as the Italian edged out the German in his opening gambit to regain the green jersey of top points scorer.

Alex Zulle stepped out of the fray yesterday. Optimism turned to commonsense as the Swiss, with 12 pins in a shattered collar-bone, agreed with his team manager, Manolo Saiz, that the risks were too great.

"If there was a mountain stage tomorrow he would have continued, but he cannot afford to fall again," Saiz said. "Every stage is dangerous and there are too many risks in these flat races when the pack is riding close together.''

So Zulle flew to Barcelona to have his shoulder checked by his surgeon before joining teammate Johan Bruyneel for training at Alicante less than three weeks after his Tour of Switzerland crash.

TOUR DE FRANCE Fifth stage (Chantonnay to La Chatre, 261.50km): 1 C Vasseur (Fr) GAN 6hr 16min 44sec (average 41.647 kmh): 2 S O'Grady (Aus) GAN 2:32, 3 F Cabello (Sp) KEL, 4 M Artunghi (It) MER, 5 P Meinert (Den) USP, 6 T Bourguignon (Fr) BIG, 7 F Gougot (Fr) CSO, 8 S Cueff (Fr) MUT, 9 M Zen (It) ROS, 10 B Hamburger (Den) TVM, 11 C Agnolutto (Fr) CSO all s/t, 12 M Cipollini (It) SAE 3:24, 13 E Zabel (Ger) TEL, 14 G Fagnini (It) SAE, 15 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN, 16 A Baffi (It) USP, 17 R Virenque (Fr) FES, 18 G Fraser (Can) MUT, 19 M Traversoni (It) MER, 20 M Tosatto (It) MAG all s/t. Selected: 36 C Boardman (GB) GAN, 38 J Ullrich (Ger) TEL, 48 B Riis (Den) TEL, 61 M Pantani (It) MER, 179 M Sciandri (GB) FDJ all s/t. Did not start: A Zulle (Swit) ONCE. Overall standings: 1 C Vasseur (Fr) GAN 28hr 14min 35sec, 2 M Cipollini (It) SAE +2:17, 3 E Zabel (Ger) TEL +2:19, 4 C Boardman (GB) GAN +2:54, 5 J Ullrich (Ger) TEL +2:56, 6 F Vandenbroucke (Bel) MAP +3:00, 7 A Olano (Sp) BAN +3:04, 8 S O'Grady (Aus) GAN +3:05, 9 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN +3:06, 10 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE +3:06. Selected: 23 B Riis (Den) TEL +3:59, 57 M Sciandri (GB) FDJ 5:39, 68 M Pantani (It) MER +6:27, 102 I Gotti (It) SAE +8:26. Points standings: 1 E Zabel (Ger) TEL 148pts, 2 M Cipollini (It) SAE 135, 3 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN 103, 4 J Blijlevens (Neth) TVM 72, 5 R McEwen (Aus) RAB 56, 6 A Baffi (It) USP 56, 7 F Simon (Fr) GAN 56, 8 M Traversoni (It) MER 56, 9 N Minali (It) BAT 53, 10 C Vasseur (Fra) GAN 53. King of the mountains: 1 L Brochard (Fr) FES 36pts; 2 C Saugrain (Fr) COF 11; 3 A Kasputis (Lit) CSO 10, 4 F Simon (Fr) GAN 6, 5 C Vasseur (Fr) GAN 5, 6 T Gouvenou (Fr) BIG 5, 7 L Colombo (It) BAT 4, 8 S Knaven (Neth) TVM 4, 9 R Virenque (Fr) FES 3, 10 G Bortolami (It) FES 3.Teams: 1 GAN 84hr 49min 25sec, 2 Telekom 03:38, 3 US Postal Service 03:42, 4 Mapei 04:20, 5 Casino 04:29, 6 Rabobank 05:29, 7 ONCE 06:17, 8 Cofidis 06:20, 9 Festina 06:20, 10 Batik 06:25.