As happened yesterday, a group of riders was able to establish an gap between themselves and the field, and went on to fight out the stage among themselves. Miguel Indurain was once again happy to play poker and let one (or two) serious contenders in G.C ride out a large advantage before starting to haul them back in again. Once agian, the gamble paid off.
The attack today came earlier than yesterday, some 200km before the finish. The following riders opened up a gap on the field and continually opened it out until the alarm bells started ringing in the field behind them: Podenza, Bottaro, Mauri (8th in G.C), Peron, Stephens and Jalabert (6th in G.C.). As the lead of these riders reached 10'40 Laurent Jalabert was the virtual leader of the TdF and Melchor Mauri was in second position. The Banesto and Gewiss teams decided that enough was enough and began to close the gap back down again, but it was clear that the leaders were not going to be caught and that Jalabert would make a large jump forwards in G.C. But would he win the stage?
As the leaders approached the last climb of the day, some 8km before the finish, their lead was down to something over seven minutes. Melchor Mauri was keeping the pace high for Jalabert, and Podenzana (Gewiis) was sitting on the back waiting for something to happen. Mauri led up to, and into the hill, but as he tired Jalabert wasted no time and attacked immediatly.
He opened up a gap of 50m - followed by Podenza. The Itailian couldn't match the Frenchman today however, and Jalabert slowly extended his advantage until Podenzana was beaten.
By now, the field had started the climb as well. Marco Pantani soon took the lead, riding with an incredible pace. Richard Virenque, the mountain points leader, followed him for a while but decided that the pace was too high and dropped back. Alex Zuelle followed with Indurain and Riis on his wheel, but he too could not follow the Italian. Pantani soon had 50m on the chasers - now led by Indurain and Riis. The rest, including Zuelle, could not follow Indurain's pace and soon the pair was alone in pursuit of Pantani.
Jalabert had now reached the top of the climb and was getting close to the finish. The former leaders had no chance of catching him and his lead over Pantani was now 6'30. Indurain and Riis were 30m down on Pantani and able to hold the gap at that.
As Jalabert reached the last kilometer there was no question about his win. It was an enormous boost for the French on their national day and a well deserved reward for the Once team, which has easily been the most active team in the tour this year.
As Pantani realizes that he can't drop Indurain and Riis he sits up and waits for them. As he's rolled in it's Indurain who takes the lead, looking to put a few seconds on Zuelle. Riis helps, obviously trying to limit the damage done by Jalabert and trying to distance Zuelle, Rominger and Gotti.
Jalabert crosses the line at the end of a long straight overjoyed at the win. A French winner of a TdF stage on the French national day - a dream for every French bike rider.
His former fellow 'escapees' arrive one after the other at the finish, Mauri bringing up fourth place. Despite his work for Jalabert today Mauri was able to improve himself in G.C and now occupies 5th place. This shows how well, and how disciplined the Once team is riding right now.
Pantani sprints past Riis and Indurain to take 6th place, and Alex Zuelle does well to hold the gap to the trio to only 17". Rominger arrives in 12th place with Gotti Rochard and Escartin, 6'18" behind Jalabert.
The big winner of the day was Jalabert. Not only did he win the prestigous stage, he also move up into third place in G.C and secured his green jersey. Who would have thought that before the tour? Once as a team had a good day, not only with Jalabert but also with Mauri. Despite his work for Jalabert he also managed to move up in the overall standings and is now in 5th position. Miguel Indurain made it clear to his competitors that he's happy to gamble on these attacks, and as their leads over riders like Jalabert is not so big as his they will also have to do some work to control the race. Bjanrne Riis and the Gewiss team, as well as Tony Rominger and the Mapei team, found out that Indurain is not bluffing on these stages.
* Jalabert admits to training harder than ever after his fall. "At the start of this season I felt the need to do something to erase the bad memories of last year," he said.
* To that end, his victories this season include Paris-Nice, Milan-San Remo, Criterium International, Fleche Wallonne, and the Tour of Catalonia (and about 20 others as I recall. --M.T.)
* "I was lucky to win Paris-Nice but once you've managed to secure a great victory, nothing seems impossible any more," Jalabert said.
* Jalabert launched today's attack just 14 miles (23 km) into the race, accompanied by Dario Bottaro (Italy). The two were joined by Melchor Mauri (Spain) and Neil Stephens (Australia), both members of Jalabert's ONCE team, as well as Italians Massimo Podenzana and Andrea Peron. At one point, he break of six opened up a lead of more than 10 minutes over the peloton. Just 3 miles (4.5km) from the finish line, Stephens and then Mauri paced Jalabert, who finished 29 seconds ahead of second-placed Podenzana and 42 seconds ahead of third-placed Bottaro.
* Regarding today's exploits, Jalabert commented: "I knew it was a sort of suicide to attack 200 kms from the end, but in 10 days the Tour will be over and if you let others break away there go the stage victories. I had lost nine minutes since the start of the Tour so I told myself to go for it. I thought that if I cracked then it was just too bad. I started the Tour thinking that I had already had a wonderful season and that anything I got out of it would be a bonus."
* Said by Jalabert about whispered comparisons to Hinault: "I'm miles behind Hinault in class but I am close to him in spirit."
* As for what more to expect: "Logically, Indurain has to be the favorite to win the Tour," Jalabert said. "But that's no reason to give him presents. I'll try to defend my third place and my green jersey (as leader of the points classification)."
* This was Jalabert's 2nd stage win in a Tour. He took a stage in Brussels in 1992. But, as a Frenchman, this one on Bastille Day was different. "Of course, it was the cherry on the cake," he said with a smile.
* "I simply fear that a Frenchman will win the stage," said Vincent Barteau, the last Frenchman to win a Tour stage on Bastille Day.
So successful was his tactic that he found himself in the lead with three team-mates, Melcho Mauri and the tough Aussie Neil Stephens. Motorola's Andrea Peron saw the chance of a good move and joined the group with two other Italians Massimo Podenzana and Dario Bottario. The six leaders worked well and increased their lead to over ten minutes at one point.
Indurain once more played a great tactical game, allowing the bear some freedom, but keeping the lead within easy reach. He waited until the other teams began to worry and came to his aid. Despite the help of Polti and Carrera the gap was still seven minutes at the foot of the final climb.
Jalabert attacked as soon as the road titled upwards and rode away to his first win of this years Tour de France and at the same time consolidated his lead in the points competition as well as moving into third place in the overall standings. Peron finished in fifth place giving Motorola a lot of television coverage along the way.