Stage 9 Report

Riis is in charge!

Bjarne Riis made the most of the shortest Tour de France stage ever by finishing one minute and twenty three seconds ahead of Evgeni Berzin, taking the yellow jersey for 40 seconds.

Riis attacked for the fourth time 25 kilometers into the stage and built a 50-second gap, finishing 24 seconds in front of Luc Leblanc, followed by Richard Virenque, Tony Rominger and Miguel Indurain. But most of all, he beat the past two days' yellow jersey, Evgeni Berzin, by over a minute, building a 40-second overall lead in the process.

The stage had been shortened twice, to 46 kilometers, because of 100 k.p.h. winds and snow at the top of the Iseran and Galibier. After going up the Galibier with the Tour caravan for the actual start of the stage, the people involved in the race could only praise the Societe du Tour de France for a wise decision.

Berzin and Abraham Olano were left behind 3.5 kilometers before the finish line when Luttemberger, then Guerini, Virenque, Riis's teammates Bolts and Ullrich, Indurain and Leblanc counter-attacked.

After having stayed up front for a long time, Berzin was too isolated to fight, and after the Mapei riders' timid offensive, he couldn't counter Luttemberger's attack.

Indurain benefited from this attack and now seems to be back into the race. He stayed in the lead group, placed an attack of his own with three kilometers left, finishing fourth, eighth overall, four minutes and 38 seconds behind Riis.

Best climber Virenque consolidated his position by finishing third atop the Col de Montgenevre and third in the stage, jumping to seventh place overall.

By finishing sixth and eighth in the stage, Telekom riders Udo Bolts and Jan Ullrich (fifth overall) showed they could prove decisive by giving a hard time to whoever wants to threaten their leader Riis.

Roger on Stage 9

The following report is derived from two viewings of the Channel 4 coverage; there's more detail I could add if I watched it a few more times!

We see shots of the tops of the Col de l'Iseran and the col du Galibier. They are both covered in snow and there's a gale blowing. Reports I saw earlier in the day spoke of 100kph winds. Yesterday evening it had already been decided to start the stage after the Iseran. In the morning the Galibier also looked too bad and the stage is cut to 46km, starting at Le Monetier-les-Bains and then as planned i the ful stage climbing the cat 2 Col de Montgenevre and finishing on the Cat 1 climb to Sestrieres. Not everybody seems to have got this message. Up on the Galibier we see a spectator who has ridden his bike up...

After signing on in Val d'Isere and then being bussed to the new start the riders prepare ad hoc in the Le Monetier football club and we are onto the road -- with some helicopters stranded there's picture break-up but what we see is fast and furious. It's the time trial part two! A determined man out front; a less well-organized time trial team chasing him.

The man out front is Bjarne Riis (Telekom), 2nd at 43 secs to Evgeny Berzin (Gewiss) after Stage 8. He's apparently attacked three times today (the first time Berzin went with him) and now he's on his fourth go. It's on Montgenevre and he's clear of Luc Leblanc (Polti) chasing him, then Richard Virenque (Festina). Riis clears the summit with 19 seconds on Leblanc, Virenque a little farther back third and the head of the peloton at 30 seconds.

When we rejoin the race on the way up to Sestrieres the chase group has become a very select one, maybe 15-strong. With Berzin at the front is team-mate Francesco Frattini but Riis already has 34 secs. Also in the de luxe chase group are Leblanc, Virenque, Miguel Indurain (Banesto), Laurent Dufaux (Festina), Peter Luttenberger (Carrera), Abraham Olano, Tony Rominger and Manuel Fernandez Gines (Mapei), Johan Bruyneel (ONCE), Udo Bolts and Jan Ullrich (Telekom), Giuseppe Guerini (Polti), Fernando Escartin (Kelme), Leonardo Piepoli (Refin) is also there, I think, certainly by 3km to go. There may be one or two more but I don't think so...

At maybe 6km to the finish Riis's lead is up to 40secs. Olano looks as if he's attacking but he's maybe just raising the pace, certainly they all string onto him, but a bit more stretched out; then he encourages Berzin to go back on the front.

With 5km to go the gap is 49 secs and as Riis goes through 4km it's steadyish on 48 secs. Riis is maillot jaune on the road.

Just as the chase hits the 4km mark Luttenberger accelerates fiercely leaving Gines scrabbling to stay on the back of the grupetto -- we are in Italy now. Guerini cottons onto this fact and puts in a genuine attack getting clear of the others... for maybe 20 or 30 metres. It's Luttenberger that closes it and keeps on pulling, with Virenque on his wheel and Ullrich on his. The pace has picked up noticeably and Berzin can't hold it.... he's slipping out of sight off the back. Luttenberger's pace counts, the gap to Riis drops to 40 secs, but for a Dane in yellow, Berzin's cracking is the crucial thing...and he has.

Then it's Indurain's turn to put in a solid piece of acceleration. And he looks like the old Indurain to me, with Luttenberger on his wheel gritting his teeth like they all used to do, Leblanc on his. Things get stretched out. It's these plus Ullrich, Bolts, Virenque, Guerini, maybe one or two others with Rominger hard-pressed to slip onto the back of these first few riders. With 2km to go the gap is 36secs.

At 2km Leblanc attacks in a big gear, Indurain can't respond, he knows how to wind up the speed steadily uphill, but this is a fierce attack. Berzin is out of the picture, 1.07 down on Riis.

At 1km to go Leblanc is well clear of a splintering little group. Riis comes in at an average speed of 39.019kph his mouth wide open (bigger than the Frejus tunnel we came through yesterday says Liggett) with Leblanc 24 secs down. Virenque is also away and comes in third. Indurain has Rominger tucked in behind him as they near the line, but the Swiss cheekily pops out to pip him to the line.

Now what was that guy whose only verb is "to wheelsuck" saying about Riis yesterday?