Stage 12 Reports

Stage summary:

Today's stage was very much like yesterday's, with the field, led by the Telekom team during the second half, letting a group of nine riders who represented no threat break away and fight for the stage in a sprint finish.

The rider who trapped his fellow escapees in the last kilometer today was Switzerland's Pascal Richard. Initially, he voluntarily reacted rather passively to Erik Breukink's attack to make the other riders think he couldn't do a thing. He only started his effort when Jesper Skibby and Mirco Gualdi countered Danny Nelissen in the finish line, easily beating them despite Laurent Roux's sacrifice.

Roux had been working for his teammate Skibby, attacking often in the stage's last twenty kilometers to tire out his opponents.

The Telekom team's work was impressive again today. They stayed with the field during the stage's first half but took matters into their hands in the last 80 kilometers, setting the pace at the front of the field and taking Erik Zabel to the pack's finish sprint in good conditions.

Miguel Indurain, on the other hand, spent most of the day in the back of the pack. Just like yesterday, his teammates brought him back up front when a group of 20 dangerous riders started to go clear in the Col des Nonieres descent.

Richard's victory concluded a 135-km effort. He had attacked with Roux, Breukink and Flavio Vanzella in the Cote du Pin climb (km 9.5). They were joined by Garcia Casas, Nelissen, Gualdi, Mauri and Skibby in the descent, went clear and progressively built a 15-minute gap in spite of the field's initial reluctance.

Pascal Richard wins Stage 12

Tour de France leader Bjarne Riis allowed Swiss Pascal Richard to win the 12th stage on Friday, content in the knowledge it made little difference to the leading overall standings.

Dane Riis, who took the yellow jersey after Monday's ninth stage, enjoyed a quiet day in the pack, which ended the day's hilly 143.5-km ride from Valence more than 15 minutes behind a breakaway group of nine riders including Richard.

``I just controlled the race,'' said Riis, moving closer every day to final victory in Paris on July 21. ``It's not over yet but so far, it's going just fine.''

Riis, still 40 seconds ahead of second-placed Evgeny Berzin of Russia overall with Swiss Tony Rominger third a further 13 seconds back, watched out for attacks by his rivals in the pack but none of them tried their luck. ``I thought they might try something but they didn't,'' said the Dane, who was particularly worried about Miguel Indurain.

The Spaniard, chasing a record sixth Tour win, lies eighth, over four minutes behind the leader. ``I don't know if there's something wrong with him but it's not my problem,'' said Riis. ``Perhaps the stage was not tough enough or perhaps he was not strong enough.''

Richard and his eight companions escaped in the descent of the day's first difficult climb, the Cote du Pin, 10 km into the shortest stage of this year's Tour.

The group, including experienced riders Dane Jesper Skibby and Dutchman Erik Breukink, built a comfortable lead in the picturesque Ardeche mountains on a hot and sunny day.

Riis and his team mates in the Telekom stable, knowing the riders in front were all way back in the overall standings, concentrated on keeping an eye on the men close to the overall lead.

Richard, a mountain specialist but also a useful sprinter, proved the fastest in the finish straight, beating Skibby and Italian Mirco Gualdi into second and third.

``I had already attacked 25 kilometres from home with (Frenchman Laurent) Roux and I thought I might be too tired to take part in the final sprint,'' said the Swiss, in his 10th year as a professional.

When Breukink made a move in the last kilometre, Richard stayed at the back of the group and let other riders catch the Dutchman. ``I did that on purpose to make the other guys think that I was exhausted,'' he said. ``I know I can be fast when I'm in a small group and I proved it.''

Saturday's 13th stage takes the riders 177 km over the hills of Auvergne to Superbesse

Pascal Richard

Pascal Richard of Switzerland took the 143.5km 12th stage of the Tour de France from Valence to Le Puy-en-Velay on Friday -- after escaping with eight other riders 130km from the finish.

Bjarne Riis of Denmark retained the overall leader's yellow jersey.

Richard, winning his second career Tour de France stage, outraced two better-known sprint specialists in Dutchman Danny Nelissen, reigning world amateur road race champion, and veteran Dane Jesper Skibby, winner of the stage to Evreux in 1993.

He punched the air in delight as he crossed the line. Skibby, who almost died in 1993 when he fractured his skull in an accident during the Tirreno-Adriatic race, finished second and Mario Gualdi of Italy finished superbly to be third.

"I think they thought I was a spent force in the final kilometre and ignored me. I took advantage of Skibby watching Nelissen and I was gone before they could catch me," 32-year-old Richard said. "I came here to prepare for the Olympics, so I am delighted that I have got this bonus."

Richard, winner of this year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic, escaped on the climb to Du Pin, the first of five climbs.

He was joined by Spain's Melchior Mauri, sixth overall last year, Skibby, Nelissen, Italians Flavio Vanzella and Gualdi, the world amateur champion in 1990, Nelissen's teammate and compatriot Eric Breukink, third overall in 1990, Skibby's French teammate Laurent Roux and Spaniard Felix Garcia Casas, winner of a stage in this year's Tour of Chile.

The peloton failed to react and with Skibby the closest challenger at over 27 minutes behind, there was little chance of Riis losing his lead.

Walter Godefroot, the Belgian manager of Riis' Telekom team, put the escape into perspective. "If Skibby happens to put 28 minutes between himself and the peloton then I will tell them to react," Godefroot joked.

The only time that there was a break in the peloton of any consequence was when five-time winner Miguel Indurain's teammate Jose Maria Jiminez attacked on the climb to Des Nonieres.

His action, however, almost proved disastrous for Indurain as Riis, Switzerland's Tony Rominger, Yevgeny Berzin of Russia and world road race champion Abraham Olano of Spain went with him -- leaving Indurain in the middle of the peloton trailing 200 metres behind.

Indurain reacted sharply and on the descent led the peloton back to the group containing Riis.

Although Indurain's Banesto team tried several further attacks during the day they were stopped by Riis' dominant Telekom team, who now lead in four categories -- yellow jersey, team, green points jersey with Erik Zabel and young rider with Jan Ullrich.

Rominger, riding on his last Tour, was satisfied with his day's riding after he took a heavy fall on Thursday which left him with a painful knee.

"It was a very successful day ... I didn't fall off," Rominger joked. "The knee is still painful but hopefully it will disappear over the next couple of days."

Britain's Olympic and World pursuit champion Chris Boardman, entering unknown territory as he had never gone further than the 11th stage in the Tour, sounded an unhappy note with regard to his performance on the Tour.

"I have had a bad Tour but now my GAN team's aim is to snatch a stage before we finish in Paris. That would be something of a consolation," the 27-year-old Boardman said.