The main peloton were content to take things relatively easy today after the exertions of the previous two days in the Alps so a breakaway group was always likely to succeed. Armand de las Cuevas, who had a terrible time in the mountains, started the attack at the 75 kilometre mark and he was joined by Sciandri, Buenahora, Frans Maassen, Rolf Jaermann, Erik Breukink, Andrea Tafi and Rolf Aldag. With so many of the big teams represented in the break there was no reaction from the bunch and the group quickly built up a large lead, reaching almost 10 minutes at one point.
The breek worked well together until they hit the wooded slopes of the Col de l'OEillon - the only first category climb of the day. De las Cuevas immediately went to the front and upped the pace, causing the group to split. Beunahora then put in an acceleration and only Sciandri was able to go with him. These two quickly set about building a solid lead - close on 2 minutes at the summit.
Behind the bunch was being paced by Banesto on the climb and they crested the summit some 6 minutes behind Buenahora and Sciandri, with a 3-man group containing Breukink, Tafi and Aldag in between. Richard Virenque took the dash for the summit line to strengthen his grip on the polka dot jersey.
At the bottom of the descent Beunahora and Sciandri continued to work well together and memories of the 1993 stage when Sciandri was beaten in the sprint by Bjarne Riis returned. Beunahora obviously recalled this day too as he continued to assist the faster finishing Sciandri.
As they passed the 1 km to go banner Sciandri was on the front and he immediately switched to the left hand side of the road so that the Colombian would have to attack on the right if he was going to try to win the stage. As the line approached Sciandri began to lift the speed and Buenahora had no response to this and Max crossed the line with his arms raised in a victory salute.
Nearly 3 minutes later Aldag sprinted in ahead of Tafi and Breukink for third, with de las Cuevas 6th, five and a half minutes back. The main peloton containing all the leaders was led in by Jalabert ahead of Abdoujaparov almost 6 minutes back. Indurain retains his lead ahead of Zuelle and Riis.
In yesterday's Cycling Weekly, Sciandri had had this to say about his aims for the Tour: "I'm 28 years old and I've got a lot to do. Winning a stage here is very important. I've go to do something. Last year and this year haven't been very good to what I expect. I need to win. Ferreti [MG-Technogym's directeur sportif - Andy] puts on the pressure more than the other managers, but I feel it more than other guys. I put it on myself. I don't say "win, win, win," but I always try to look for more by improving my training."
And from http://www.worldmedia.fr/tour/
Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, wearing the sprinter's green jersey, dashed towards the finish alongside his main rival, Uzbek Djamolidine Aboujaparov. Desperate to hang onto the green jersey, Jalabert pushed his bike forward just before the Uzbek crossed the line. After viewing the photo finish, judges said Jalabert had won the sprint, and retained the sprinter's jersey.
4:47 PM - Germany Zips in Third
Rolf Aldag of Germany crossed the finish in Saint-Etienne in third place, 2 min 50 sec behind Maximilian Sciandri of Britain, who won the stage, completing the 199 km in 4 hr 43 min 15 sec. Miguel Indurain of Spain retained the leader's yellow jersey.
4:40 PM - Briton Wins Stage
Maximilian Sciandri of Britain won the sprint finish at Saint-Etienne at the end of the 199-km stage from Bourg-d'Oisans. Hernan Buenahora of Colombia was second. They two had maintained a 7 min lead on the pack for the last third of the race.
4:38 PM - Colombian or Briton Set to Win
Either Maximilian Sciandri of Britain or Hernan Buenahora of Colombia will win the stage to Saint-Etienne. As they approach the finish the pack trails 7 min behind.
4:34 PM - They Play Tag
The two riders out in front, speeding towards Saint-Etienne, traded places leading the descent. The pack is far behind, but neither Hernan Buenahora of Colombia or Briton Maximilian pose a threat to the standing of Spain's Miguel Indurain.
4:28 PM - Two Leaders Zoom Towards Finish
Briton Maximilian Sciandri and Colombian Hernan Buenahora speed down the Col de la Crois de Chaubouret towards the finish at Saint-Etienne. The Colombian crossed the summit first, tailed by Sciandri. Andrea Tafi of Italy was third.
4:24 PM - The Last Slope of the Day
The pack tackled it's last slope of the day at Col de la Croix de Chaubouret, 3,600 feet high. Spectators sprayed water on Spaniard Miguel Indurain and members of his Banesto team who lead the pack. Despite the thunder earlier on, it has yet to rain.
4:18 PM - Green Jersey Dashes Out in Front
Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, wearing the sprinter's green jersey, dashed out in front of the pack after the Col de l'Oeillon. Jalabert is in sixth pace overall, more than 9 min behind Spaniard Miguel Indurain. Two riders, Maximilian Sciandri and Hernan Buenahora had a 7 min lead on the pack.
4:00 PM - Pushing Away Spectators
Just under 1 km to the summit, Briton Maximilian Sciandri pushed away a spectator who poured a bottle of water on his head. Colombian Hernan Buenahora, who's riding with the Briton, took a bottle from another by-stander and took a drink. The two riders shared the water, then dashed towards the summit.
3:50 PM - Gewiss Takes Offensive
Climbing the Col de l'Oeillon, Gewiss team member Gabriele Colombo of Italy moved to the front of the pack. The main group of racers trail Colombian Hernan Buenahora and Briton Maximilian Sciandri by about 7 min. The two leaders pedaled towards the summit of the 3,550-foot-high peak.
3:38 PM - Two Riders Take the Lead
Briton Maximilian Sciandri and Hernan Buenahora of Colombia picked up the pace and split off from the breakaway group near the summit of the Col de l'Oeillon. Dutchman Erik Breukink struggled behind. Spaniard Miguel Indurain's teammates led the pack, trailing 6 min behind.
3:31 PM - The Breakaway's No Threat
The eight riders in the breakaway group have little chance of undermining the standing of Spaniard Miguel Indurain. The top rider in the leading group is Erik Bruekink, who's trailing Indurain by more than 20 min. Like on Wednesday, Alex Zulle of Switzerland, currently number two, is staying close to Indurain.
3:23 PM - The Pack Picks up the Pace
The pack picked up the pace approaching the Col de l'Oeillon, 3,600 feet high, trying to shorten the lead of the breakaway group. The eight riders out in front were more than 9 min ahead. Rain started to drizzle, and as the riders sped through the tiny village of Pelussin, church bells rang out.
3:18 PM - Heat and Thunder
Thunder rumbled on the horizon as the breakaway group reached the foot of Col de lîOeillon, the only 1st category slope of the stage. The group of eight riders maintained a comfortable lead on the pack. Spaniard Miguel Indurain's Banesto team led the pack as it pedaled over a bridge crossing the Rhone River.
3:10 PM - Indurain at Back of the Pack
Spain's Miguel Indurain found himself at the back of the pack some 65 km before the finish in Saint-Etienne. An uncomfortable position, Indurain quickly moved to his usual place near the front, led by one of his teammates. Compared to Wednesday's Alpine panorama, Thursday;s route crosses the flat pastures and farmlands of the Rhone Valley.
3:00 PM - The Leaders Step up the Pace
At the 129 km mark, the breakaway group of eight riders were more than 8 min ahead of the pack. They just completed the intermediary sprint at Le Gontard. Dutchman Frans Maassen finished first, followed by Andrea Tafi of Italy. Briton Maximilian Sciandri was third. The pack is zipping along at about 46 km an hour in the blistering heat.
2:21 PM - They Hit the Mid-Point
More than two hours after pedaling off the starting line at Bourg-d'Oisans, the riders hit the 92 km mark, the mid-point of the stage to Saint-Etienne. Eight riders, including Dutchman Erik Breukink, are still out in front, now with a 5 min lead on the pack.
1:39 PM - They Attack the First Slope
The pack hit the foot of the Cote de la Forteresse, a 2nd category slope, on their way to Saint-Etienne. Eight riders, including Switzerland's Alex Zulle, led an attack. Zulle is only 2 min 27 sec behind Spaniard Miguel Indurain in the overall standings. Repeating Wednesday's strategy, Indurain's Banesto watchdogs were leading the pack.
12:07 AM - A Downhill Cruise
The pack set off on a downhill cruise on Thursday from Bourg-d'Oisans heading towards Saint-Etienne. Seven km after the start the first riders dashed out in front - an indication that those who are left aim to keep up the pressure. Only 143 riders are left after the grueling stages in the Alps, and one team, Lotto, only has two riders.
11:12 AM - Riders Head Out of the Alps.
Racers leave the Alps in Thursday's stage but that doesn't mean they've left the mountains. Today's 199 km stage takes riders from the village of Bourg-d'Oisans to Saint-Etienne just south of Lyon. Despite Italian Marco Pantani's (Carrera) victory in yesterday's leg, Miguel Indurain is still wearing the yellow jersey.