Stage 9 - The First Mountain Stage
by Peter McNairney
The stage led from Le Grand Borrand to
La Plagne over three class 1 climbs, a distance of 160km. The weather was,
again, very warm.
The stage was dominated by the performance of two riders: Alex Zuelle and
Miguel Indurain. Zuelle, especially, showed enormous amounts of class in a
race that saw most of the favorites melt in the summer heat.
He broke away on the first class 1 climb of the day with the TVM rider Bo
Hamburger. The duo chased Munoz, who was first to the top, and caught him
in the long descent. The field, led by Banesto obviously, didn't spend much
effort chasing the three riders as there was still some 90km to go to the
finish. By the time the front three had reached the valley again they had a
lead of 1'20" over the field and 30" over a chasing Lance Armstrong. As
they hit the flats they worked commitedly and even though the gap was not
great, Armstrong was not able to catch them. At the feed station the gap
was still 30" but the field had slipped to 2'00".
As the next climb is reached Zuelle sets the pace and the others fade,
Hamburger hangs on to his wheel but Munoz drops back to Armstrong. The
field, meanwhile, is riding along at a comfortable pace. Either Indurain
doesn't want to use up his helpers too early on a chase, or he doesn't take
Zuelle's attack all that seriously. Whatever the reason, the pace remains
low and the gap widens - it's now a little over 3 minutes. There are two
Banesto helpers leading the field now, which is down to about 40 riders
including most of the favorites, Bugno is conspicuously abscent.
In the second half of this climb come further surprises. Berzin suddenly
has a 20m gap between himself and the field, at first it seems he had a
mechanical defect, but despite help from Cenghialta the gap widens. Soon,
he loses contact completly. At about the same time Munoz and Armstrong are
caught again. The field shrinks further and by the time they reach a hydro
lake near the summit there's only 25 of them left. Zuelle leads by 3'35"
and Berzin falls back 50".
The temperature has all of them working with the exception of Indurain who
sweats, and bares his teeth occasionaly but otherwise looks relativly
comfortable. Rominger, on the other hand, doesn't look good at all. As the
field climbs up, away from the lake, the last of the leading Banesto
helpers fades. Once again its Gerard Rue who comes to the front for his
captain, but the pace is still not all that high. This allows Zuelle to
extend his lead even more, and now has 4 minutes. Rue leads for a while but
tires near the top and falls back quickly, leaving Indurain with only one
more rider for support.
As the field passes the summit Zuelle has streched the lead to 5 minutes.
The swiss rider is turning on one of the best rides of his life and is now
the virtual tour leader. Perhaps Indurain was expecting Zuelle to collapse
on the final climb to La Plagne but 'till this point he'd made no signs of
In the descent Indurain leads the field personally, but at very slow speed.
He only freewheels down the mountain and as a result Zuelle's lead grows to
5'20". It seems as though Indurain is not willing to use his last helper
(Aparicio) to lead all the way to the finish. The slow speed allows Rue to
catch the field again, and immediatly the frenchman takes the lead again
with Indurain behind him. As the flat is reached again Zuelle's lead is
still over 5 minutes.
On the flat it's a long-distance pursuit race between Zuelle and Rue - one
that ended in a draw. As the final climb is reached Zuelle still has just
under 5 minutes advantage. After only a few hundred meters of the climb Rue
quits and falls back to ride the last 15km by himself. Indurain must now
use his last help and Apricio goes to the front. Tonkov attacks and comes
clear without the slightest reaction from the field. Indurain looks
somewhat exposed now, with only the one helper, but the remaining riders
doen't seem to have any interest in an attack at all.
Zuelle still has 4 1/2 minutes (over Tonkov, 5 min. on the field) as
Aparicio tires and Indurain must take over the lead himself. It's still
enough for him (Zuelle) to be dangerous to Indurain in G.C even though it
seems he won't get the yellow jersey. He's starting to fight now, but is
still riding fast.
As Indurain takes the lead riders start to go off the back. Rominger
doesn't look good and there is only 12 other riders in the group now.
Suddenly Indurain raises the pace. The group is immediatly stretched to
breaking point. One rider after another sprints onto Indurains wheel,
realizes what a speed the Spaniard is riding, sits back in the saddle, and
falls back to ride his own tempo up the mountain. Within minutes the field
is destroyed and Indurain is alone chasing Tonkov and Zuelle. Pantani
builds a first group with Gotti and Lafranchi. Rominger is
further back and Riis can't be seen.
Indurain catches Tonkov and is now 4'03" down on Zuelle. Tonkov hangs on
for a while but Indurain is not holdable today. He powers into, and out of,
the corners. He doesn't even get out of the saddle. Tonkov soon quits this
pace and rides on alone. He'd hung on to Indurain for almost 2 1/2 minutes
- longer than anyone else. Zuelle now had 3'50".
The race order was now: Zuelle, Indurain, Tonkov, Pantani - Gotti -
Lafranchi, Rominger - Chaippuci - Dufaux - Virenque - Escartin. Escartin
was giving it all he could to keep Rominger in the race.
With 5km to go Zuelle is giving it all he's got. He's fighting but still
riding fantasticly. Even with the speed that Indurain was riding he wasn't
going to catch the Once rider today. He still had 3'09" and the win looked
safe, the only remaining question was how close would he get to Indurain in
G.C. Indurain keeps up the pace and reaches the red flag at about the same
time Zuelle crosses the line. He finishes 2'02" later. Tonkov arrives
another 2 minutes later, followed by Pantani and Gotti. Romingers group
arrives 6'00" after Zuelle.
The times show that, despite a 70km break over 2 passes, Zuelle was still
able to put time on almost all the other riders in the last climb. A truly
fantastic effort. Whether he can recover from this enormous effort and
challenge Indurain for the overall lead remains to be seen. One must hope
that he can because he is now the sole remaining challenger to Indurains
record equalling 5th tour win.
Tomorrow is another day, but if the weather remains hot then the opponents
of Indurain had better resign themselves to another hard day. Indurain is
riding as never before and it's time for him to win a stage other than a
time trial. He was beaten on Saturday but tomorrow the Alp d'Huez could be
what he's looking for.
5:27 PM - ZULLE WINS STAGE
Alex Zulle of Switzerland, who broke away from the pack after the Col
des Saisies, won the stage between Le Grand-Bornand and La Plagne. He
finished the 160 km stage in 4 hr 41 min 18 sec. Spaniard Miguel
Indurain, who stepped up the pace on the sharp climb towards the
6,000-foot-high summit, came in 2 min 2 sec behind. Russian Pavel
Tonkov was third. Indurain retains the leader's yellow jersey. Zulle,
who was in ninth place, is now second in the overall standings.
5.15 PM - ZULLE SET TO WIN
Alex Zulle of Switzerland approached the finish with more than a 2
min advance on Miguel Indurain of Spain. The Spanish champ launched an
attack at the beginning of the climb up the final peak at La Plagne,
more than 6,000 feet high. Zulle is 4 min 29 sec down from Indurain in
the overall standings.
5.07 PM - INDURAIN CLOSES THE GAP
Approaching the finish, Spaniard Miguel Indurain continued to close
the lead of Alex Zulle of Switzerland. There is now about a 3 min gap
between the two, compared to 5 min about 40 km earlier.
4:50 PM - Spaniard Determined not to Lose Jersey
Miguel Indurain of Spain stepped up the pace, trying vigorously to
close the lead held by Swiss rider Alex Zulle. He is closing the gap,
but Zulle still could take the leader's yellow jersey at La Plagne.
The Swiss rider has a 4 min 3 sec advance on Indurain.
4:39 PM - Church Bells Ring
Church bells rang out as Spaniard Miguel Indurain passed through the
tiny Alpine village of Macot, 16 km before the finish at La Plagne.
Alex Zulle of Switzerland is still out in front. Russian Pavel Tonkov
follows, at 4 min 25, and Indurain lags 4 min 49 sec behind Zulle. The
Swiss rider is 4 min 29 sec behind the Spaniard in the overall
4:33 PM - Indurain Tries to Close Gap
Spaniard Miguel Indurain, led by a teammate, was in hot pursuit of
Swiss rider Alex Zulle. Indurain lags less than 5 min behind Zulle, as
the riders pump up the steep climb towards the finish in La Plagne,
almost 6,000 feet high.
4:25 PM - Zulle Starts Ascent
A lone rider in pink, Alex Zulle of Switzerland, started the 20 km
climb to the finish in La Plagne, almost 6,000 feet high. Spanish
leader Miguel Indurain and several other riders lagged 5 min 11 sec
4:17 PM - The Pack is over the Summit
The pack just crossed the towering Cormet de Roselend, almost 5,000
feet high. At the top, the riders started munching candy bars and
slurping on their red drink bottles. Alex Zulle of Switzerland is
still out in front, with a 5 min lead on Spaniard Miguel Indurain. The
Spanish leader has two other teammates with him.
4:05 PM - Zulle Could Take Jerseys
Alex Zulle of Switzerland passed first over the Cormet de Roselend,
almost 5,000 feet high, more than 5 min in front of the pack. If he
maintains his lead, he could take the yellow jersey from Spaniard
Miguel Indurain, and the red polka dot jersey of the best climber off
the back of Frenchman Richard Virenque.
3:46 PM - Russian Struggles in Mountains
Russian favorite Evgueni Berzin, who looked like a potential winner
of the Tour a few days ago, has lost 5 min 52 sec on the man who's out
in front, Alex Zulle of Switzerland. Berzin is more than 2 min behind
the pack, led by a teammate of Spaniard Miguel Indurain.
3:43 PM - Another Drops Out
Roberto Petito, an Italian with Mercatone, joined other riders on
Tuesday in dropping out. Spaniard Miguel Indurain's Banesto teammates
are suffering as well. At about 2:30 p.m. local time, he had three of
his teammates with him. Now he only has the support of one, and he
lags 4 min behind Alex Zulle of Switzerland, who's out in front.
3:31 PM - Armstrong Fails to Catch Up
U.S. rider Lance Armstrong has failed to join Alex Zulle of
Switzerland. At one point Armstrong looked as if he would catch the
Swiss rider, who was accompanied by Bo Hamburger of Denmark. Now Zulle
is out in front, followed by the Dane, 35 sec back. Armstrong and
Federico Munoz of Colombia are lagging behind more than 2 min, with
about a one minute advance on the pack. Jelle Njidam of the
Netherlands has dropped out.
3:14 PM - Zulle Maintains Attack
Alex Zulle of Switzerland, a potential winner of the race, is leading
the Tour as the riders climp the Cormet de Roselend. Zulle is in ninth
place overall, 4 min 29 sec behind Spaniard Indurain. He's followed by
Bo Hamburger of Denmark, with Colombian Federico Munoz and U.S. rider
lagging behind. The pack is more than 2 min back.
3:02 PM - Armstrong Launches Attack
U.S. rider Lance Armstrong is in hot pursuit of three other riders
who are out in front: Alex Zulle of Switzerland, Colombian Federico
Munez and Bo Hamburger of Denmark. The three riders who crossed first
over the Col des Saisies and have a 1 min 40 sec lead on the pack.
Spaniard Miguel Indurain's teammates are staying out in front. Several
riders are lagging behind, and Italian Silvio Martinello has
2:46 PM - Near the Summit
About 4 km before the summit of Col des Saisies, which is almost
5,000 feet high, Colombian Federico Munoz has a 32 sec lead on Danish
rider Bo Hamburger and Alex Zulle of Switzerland. Zulle is now in
ninth place overall, 4 min 29 sec behind leader Miguel Indurain of
Spain. The two riders are followed by another group, and the pack lags
2:17 PM - The Big Challenge
The first riders just hit the Col des Saisies, which is almost 5,000
feet high. Spaniard Mariano Rojas of the ONCE team is out in front.
He's tailed by a number of other riders. The pack, led by the leader
Miguel Indurain, is 20 sec behind. There's a 16-km climb to the
1:47 PM - A Sprint Relief
After a speedy descent down the 3rd category slope at Col de l'Epine,
the riders hit their first sprint of the day at the 39 km mark. Uzbek
Djamolidine Aboujaparov finished first, tailed by Frenchman Laurent
Jalabert. Another Frenchman Thierry Laurent was third. The riders now
face the 3,090-foot-high peak at Col de Hery.
1:35 PM - The Peaks get Steeper
Just over 26 km after the start at Le Grand-Bornand, the pack crossed
the 3rd category slope at Col de l'Epine, with Frenchman Richard
Virenque still out in front. He's wearing the best climber's polka dot
jersey. His compatriot Francois Simon was second, followed by
Australian Stephen Hodge.
1:14 PM - The Pack Crosses first Slope
The pack just whizzed over the 4th category slope at Col du Marais,
16 km after the start at Le Grand-Bornand. Frenchman Richard Virenque,
sporting the best climber's red polka dot jersey, was first at the
summit. Stephen Hodge of Australia, who also races for Festina, was
second. Italian Massimo Podenzana of Brescialat was third.
12:53 AM - They Hit the Alps
The pack set off just after mid-day on Tuesday from Le Grand-Bornand
in the Alps, heading 160 km towards the ski station at La Plagne. The
mountains get increasingly steep, with riders hitting their first 1st
category peak at the Col des Saisies, 73 km after the start. The
weather augurs tough times ahead: meteorologists are predicting
10:38 AM - Rominger Expresses Doubts
Swiss cyclist Tony Rominger of Mapei said Monday that he was not
happy with his form and cast doubt on his ability to challenge Tour
leader Miguel Indurain. Rominger, winner of this year's Tour of Italy,
is in fifth place overall, 2 minutes and 32 seconds behind Indurain.