Riis and his Telekom teammates controlled a very fast and animated stage today, in much more difficult conditions than the past few days. After setting the pace at the front of the field in the stage's first part, Riis's teammates were able to keep Riis close to the lead in the last, terrible climbs.
Ullrich, then Bolts, the last Telekom riders present up front, continued to sacrifice themselves for Riis in the Cote de Saint-Anastaise climb, putting Rominger in difficulty for the first time in the process. Riis was able to stay in the lead group on his own in the Cote du Faux and the Cote de Superbesse. "I am the strongest," he simply said after the stage.
The Telekom team's efforts saw Rominger and Berzin lose 27 seconds and one place in the overall standings. Berzin was left behind three kilometers before the finish line, in the Cote de Superbesse climb. After losing ground in the Cote de Saint-Anastaise, Rominger came back but fell behind again in the Cote du Faux.
The only rider who benefited from this stage in the overall standings was Richard Virenque (seventh overall), who came up short and finished third, behind Sorensen and Orlando Rodrigues, 23 seconds in front of Riis. Virenque had followed Luc Leblanc when he attacked in the stage's next-to-last climb, the Cote du Faux. They worked their way up together and their teammates, Guerini and Brochard, then sacrificed themselves to allow them to rejoin the men up front, Sorensen, Rodrigues and Salvodelli.
The junction was made with two kilometers left in the stage, but Sorensen was able to make the difference in the last two bends.
Sorensen had started chasing two escapees (Thibout, Bartoli) with 12 other riders in the the Col de Toutee (km 89.5) descent.
Indurain was unlucky today. He was active as early as the Col des Fourches (km 82), where he was instrumental in bringing the field back to a counter-attack group consisting of Berzin, Olano and Virenque among others. Later, after the Saurier sprint (km 146.5), his teammates attacked and fastened the field's pace. But just when he was going to satisfy the last few days' malcontents by trying to go clear, he had a flat tire. Even though Arrieta promptly gave him his wheel, he lost some energy coming back and could only stay in Riis's wheel during the rest of the stage.
Riis, yellow jersey wearer since Monday, extended his overall lead to 56 seconds over Abraham Olano, the Spanish World road race champion, and to over a minute on Yevgeny Berzin of Russia and Switzerland's Tony Rominger. "I succeeded in controlling the attacks today and I feel stronger than the others," Riis thundered.
Asked whether he was surprised that five-time winner Miguel Indurain had not led the group at any time he replied: "I didn't have time to ask him but he could have had something wrong with him and perhaps he feels that it is for me as yellow jersey wearer to do the work."
Sorensen, who wore the yellow jersey for four days in 1991 until he broke his collarbone, gained ample consolation for his frustration at losing out on the stage to Gap earlier in the week.
Then, he was caught in the final straight after escaping on his own 40km from the finish and threatened that he would look for another stage to win. "I am thoroughly disappointed and will go for another stage as to win one is equivalent to winning a classic," Sorensen, winner of one previous stage in 1994, said.
He was caught again near the finish but this time he allowed the group of Richard Virenque and Luc Leblanc along with Portugal's Orlando Rodrigues to give him a lead, before he struck -- clasping his hands in delight at the victory.
Virenque was upset at not winning the stage after he and Leblanc had put distance between themselves and the yellow jersey group on the climb to De Saint-Anastasie. "I thought I would win but I got put off by Rodrigues nearly crashing at the last corner. I was also not amused by Leblanc not sharing the pace. I had to do everything, but I have come to expect that of Luc," Virenque said sarcastically.
Sorensen had been part of an 11-man group that broke away on the descent of De Toutee, the second of five climbs, and reeled in a further three man group with 60km to go to the finish.
Sorensen's group included Britain's Olympic and World pursuit champion Chris Boardman, three-time green jersey winner Djamolodine Abdujaparov and Bo Hamburger, the best placed overall 10 minutes behind Riis.
Though they built up a lead of over five minutes over the peloton the second category climb of De Saint-Anastasie split them irreversibly.
The valiant Abdujaparov, nicknamed the 'Tashkent Express', had escaped on his own but found the climb too much for his spindly sprinter's legs and was caught by Sorensen, Paolo Salvodelli of Italy and Indurain's Portuguese teammate Rodrigues.
Meanwhile Riis had split the peloton apart forming a group of 11, dropping Rominger for the first time on Saint-Anastasie but with all the other top 10 leaders with him.
Berzin and Rominger were finally distanced on the final climb to Superbesse-Sancy as Austrian Peter Luttenberger forced the pace taking Indurain, Riis and Olano with him.
They swept up several of the struggling escape group including Boardman, Claudio Chiappucci and Australian Patrick Jonker finishing just over 20seconds behind the stage winner and more importantly not having suffered too much damage by Leblanc and Virenque in the overall picture.
Sorensen sprinted to the line at the end of a demanding, 177-km ride from Le Puy, beating Orlando Rodrigues of Portugal and Richard Virenque of France into second and third place.
Riis resisted several attacks on the steep slopes leading to the Auvergne resort of Superbesse to take 11th place in the stage and gain time on some of his most dangerous rivals for final victory.
Russian Evgeny Berzin and Swiss Tony Rominger, who had started the stage in second and third position overall, both cracked in the final climb and came in 28 seconds behind Riis.
World champion Abraham Olano of Spain, who finished in the same group as the race leader, moved two places up to second in the overall standings ahead of Berzin and Rominger, now third and fourth respectively.
Riis, who took the yellow jersey after Monday's ninth stage to Sestriere, Italy, saw Frenchmen Virenque and Luc Leblanc make moves in the climbs ending the stage but each time, he was able to come back.
``It was tough but I was able to control the race and that's the most important thing,'' said Riis, who received precious help from his team mates in the Telekom stable.
``I feel strong,'' added the 32-year-old from Herning, now 56 seconds ahead of Olano overall with Berzin third a further 12 seconds back. ``It looks like I'm just as strong as the other guys, if not stronger.''
Spaniard Miguel Indurain, badly needing to make up time since having a rare off-day in the Alps, suffered a puncture with some 20 kilometres remaining but he managed to catch up Riis's group to end the stage sixth in the same time as the Dane.
Five times Tour winner Indurain, still a modest eighth overall four minutes 38 seconds behind Riis, might find it hard to score a record sixth win.
Sorensen and Rodrigues were the last survivors of a group of 14 riders including Briton Chris Boardman who had escaped some 60 kilometres from Superbesse. ``I knew I was in good form and I desperately wanted to win a stage,'' said Sorensen, who wore the yellow jersey for four days on the 1991 Tour and won a stage two years ago. ``Now I'd love to win another.''
Boardman, who has been hampered by stomach problems in the last few days, produced one of his best showings to finish seventh. ``I haven't been feeling to good but I was satisfied with my form today,'' said the Briton, seeking to go the full distance for the first time.
Olympic pursuit champion Boardman retired in the 11th stage in his first Tour two years ago and dropped out last year's race after sustaining severe injuries when he fell in the prologue.
Sunday's 14th stage over 186.5 kms from Besse to Tulle will not be an easy one for Riis, according to Rodrigues.
``The Telekom guys are very strong but they were made to work a lot in the last few days and tomorrow might be a difficult day for Riis,'' said the Portuguese rider, a team mate of Indurain with Banesto.