Report - Stage 2

Roger's Report

**Hernan Buenahora (Kelme) wasn't the only rider to drop out
yesterday. Sergio Previtali (Panaria) was disqualified from the race
after finishing Stage 1 for having held onto his team-car. (Previtali
was involved in a crash with Frankie Andreu and was obviously finding
it tought to get back up. As well as his disqualification his team
manager was fined 500 Swiss francs -- the currency of the Tour de
France fine -- about US$400. Panaria aren't doing too well, two down
already, with Roberto Conti not starting the Prologue because of a
sudden fever.)

**Another of yesterday's crash victims, well-known shaven-headed Luca
Gelfi (Brescialat), who had a badly abraded hand, only rode a few
kilometres today before retiring.

**Yesterday stage winner Frederic Moncassin (GAN) was initially
awarded the green jersey, but then more careful calculation gave it to
Jan Svorada (Panaria).

Stage 2 gets under way at 11.20 with Alex Zulle (ONCE) in yellow and
Svorada in green in the front rank at the start. The weather is
intermittently wet with 30kph s.w. winds blowing. We jump to the first
sprint at Goirle (31km) where it's raining hard -- Moncassin is in
striking distance of the yellow jersey and he goes for the sprint
bonuses, taking first (6 secs bonus) in front of Mauro Bettin (Refin
-- 4 secs) and Djamolidin Abdujaparov (Refin -- 2 secs), who is none
the worse for his crash yesterday. Soon after the sprint the race
crosses the border into Belgium.

At approx 75.5km a break of four has got away  -- it's Belgian
champion Johan Museeuw (Mapei-GB), Leon Van Bon (Rabobank), Dario
Bottaro (Gewiss) and Neil Stephens (ONCE). GAN are chasing hard on the
front of the peloton to bring this back on behalf of Moncassin, but
they stay away, and at the second sprint at Gent (155.5km) it's
Museeuw first (6 secs), Van Bon (4 secs) and Bottaro (2 secs)

On the way to the 4th cat climb of the Mont d'Enclus (207.5km) where
the first proper maillot a pois will be won, three riders get away at
190km -- Ivan Cerioli (Gewiss), Jacky Durand (Agrigel) and Danny
Nelissen (Rabobank). They have 31 secs at the bottom of the hill.
Nelissen gets well clear on the climb which is jam-packed and I mean
jam-packed with Belgians (obviously Flanders isn't working today).
Durand appears to be struggling at the back but Cerioli cracks on the
steepest part and Durand scrambles inelegantly past him for second
place. The three pick up 5, 3 and 1 for their efforts. The bunch is
almost on them and Emmanuel Magnien (Festina) breaks clear to take
fourth place on the climb. Has he forgotten that Cat 4 climbs only
give points for the first three, is he attempting a break, or is he
just full of the joy of the chase? I don't know! Soon after the summit
anyway they are all together again and we go off for a mercilessly
brief commercial break. 

Back from the break we spend five minutes at home with Sean Yates --
Yates watching the Tour on Channel 4, Yates back from a ride, Yates
with Pippa and his son. Pippa says there are going to be some
adjustment to be made when Sean is at home more... I like Sean an
awful lot but I want to get back to the racing...

Our next shots are from the third and final sprint at Dottignies
(km225.5, 22km to the finish). A break of Danny Nelissen (again) and
Fabio Roscioli (Refin) had got away a bit before it but Rossano Brasi
(Polti) chases them down and goes straight past to take the sprint (6
secs). Nelissen and Roscioli are swept up by the peloton before it
reaches the sprint. Moncassin knows that second -- and only second --
will give him the yellow jersey. He leads out -- too early -- and Jan
Svorada, keen on points to hold his green, pips him to the line.
Moncassin looks well pissed off,but there's still the finish bonus...

Soon after Dottignies we pass into France and we next pick up the race
with 6km to go. Brasi is still away and he has 17 secs on a peloton
being pulled along by four or five Saeco working for Mario Cipollini.
Giuseppe Calcaterra is on the front, then Mario Scirea and the gap
drops to 15 secs at 5km. But the steam goes out of Saeco for a while
and it's up to 20 secs again. But they're long getting together again.
Meanwhile Erik Dekker (Rabobank) has slipped away for a brief attack
and catches and overtakes Brasi at 4km. Brasi is swallowed up and the
chase is taken up by three or four TVM on the front of the peloton
with Peter Van Petegem on te front of the line. Before 3km out
Dekker's swalowed up and TVM continue to pull with Saeco well placed
behind them. After 2km out five or six Saeco wind up a fierce pace for
Cipollini, but Svorada and Erik Zabel (Telekom) are also visible well

 Around 1km out on a slight downhill Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rabobank)
tries for one of his classic fliers and he's ever so close to making
it, but as the road turns slightly uphill he 's swept up at 200m to
the line. Moncassin leads out the sprint, but he's gone too early.
Svorada slips past him, then Cipollini, then Jeroen Blijlevens (TVM).
And it's 1. Cipollini, 2 Blijlevens, 3 Svorada and 4 Moncassin, just
short of the yellow jersey he wants....

Super Mario Wins Stage 2

Cipollini of Italy won the 247.5km second stage of the Tour de France from Den Bosch here on Monday -- gaining quick revenge for his disqualification on Sunday.

Switzerland's Alex Zulle retained the overall leader's yellow jersey -- he holds a one second advantage over Frederic Moncassin of France.

Cipollini, the Italian champion, was delighted with his victory, his fourth career stage victory in the Tour.

"That's life but I was disappointed with the disqualification yesterday and this is sweet revenge," said the 29-year-old Italian nicknamed 'Il Magnifico'.

Cipollini, winner of four stages in the Tour of Italy, won in a terrific sprint finish, beating Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens, runner-up on Sunday as well.

Jan Svorada of the Czech Republic was third.

The big loser was Moncassin, winner of Sunday's stage. He twice failed to seize vital bonus times in the sprints to take over the leader's yellow jersey.

He won a six second bonus sprint to get within three seconds of Zulle, but could only finish third in the final one to pick up two seconds.

Moncassin then finished fourth in the final sprint to the line, missing out on the bonus times for the first three.

"I made a mistake and I paid for it, but I am confident I can claim the jersey on Tuesday," Moncassin said.

The early part of the race was dominated by a four-man breakaway including the Belgian champion Johan Museeuw and Australian Neil Stephens.

They built up a lead of over six minutes until Stephens' team boss Manuel Saiz instructed him to stop helping as Museeuw was endangering the overall lead of teammate Zulle.

One of the stars of Sunday, Dutchman Danny Nelissen, the reigning amateur road race world champion, then launched a solo escape after the only climb of the day, the fourth category Mont d'Enclus.

Nelissen, who had to retire from the professional ranks because of heart problems, dispelled any doubts about his health.

"I've had two further examinations and they found nothing wrong with me. Its important to me to prove the rest of the peloton wrong, as they thought I was finished -- well there's a lot left in Danny Nelissen!" the 25-year-old said.

Nelissen was joined later in his escape by two Italians Fabio Roscioli, winner of the stage into Marseille in 1993, and Rosano Brasi.

Nelissen and Roscioli were unable to stay with Brasi and with 25km to go he was out on his own, at one point holding a 51second lead, which would have seen him assume the yellow jersey.

However, the peloton led by Cipollini's Saeco team whittled down his lead and he was caught within sight of his second professional win.

Russian Viacheslav Ekimov, the 10 times world record holder at pursuit, raced away only to be snapped up by the charging sprinters.

The stage was littered with abandonments, the most famous victim being veteran Spanish climbing specialist Laudelino Cubino, riding in his eighth and final Tour, who abandoned nine kms from the finish.

His abandonment dealt another blow to the Kelme team, who lost combative Colombian Hernan Buenahora on Sunday.

Tuesday's third stage is over 195kms from Wasquehal and Nogent sur Oise.

Report 2

Sprint specialist Mario Cipollini, demoted in Sunday's first stage for blocking eventual winner Frederic Moncassin, restored his pride with a stylish win in the second stage of the Tour de France Monday.

Italy's Cipollini crossed the finish line ahead of Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens and Czech Jan Svorada at the end of the day's 247.5-kilometer (154-mile) ride from the Dutch city of Den Bosch.

Just 24 hours earlier the Italian had been relegated to 37th and last of the leading group after finishing third in Sunday's stage. Cipollini had forced Moncassin to go wide and the Frenchman nearly collided with Blijlevens before recovering to win the stage.

Monday the Italian champion received precious help from his Saeco teammates, who caught Italian Rossano Brasi 2.5 miles from the finish to make sure the stage would end with a tight sprint.

Brasi broke away with 15.5 miles left and bravely resisted the pack before the men in Saeco jerseys overhauled him.

Rain stopped as the sun came out for the first time since the race started with Saturday's prologue in Den Bosch just as the riders reached the French border.

Swiss rider Alex Zuelle, no sprint specialist, came in safely with the pack to retain the race leader's yellow jersey.

But he is now clearly under threat from Moncassin, who gained eight seconds through the day's intermediate sprints and is now second overall, one second behind Zuelle.

Like Zuelle, Miguel Indurain, bidding for a record sixth win, took no risks and finished the stage in 49th place.

The Spaniard looks ideally placed in sixth position overall before the battle really starts in the Alps Saturday.

``The first week is always a bit dangerous and the most important thing is not to fall and not to lose too much time,'' Indurain said.

Moncassin looks sure to feature prominently in Tuesday's third stage to Nogent-sur-Oise, which will provide the sprinters with one more opportunity to shine.

But the favorite will once again be Cipollini, who confirmed that he is arguably the strongest sprinter around.

``I'd like to thank my teammates, who did a superb job,'' he said. ``I wanted to win with that (the Italian champion's) jersey and it gave me extra motivation.

``I admit that I sprinted without looking at the others yesterday but I apologized to Moncassin and I felt the jury was a bit severe.''

Mario now happily married

Italian heart-throb Mario Cipollini reminded his hordes of adoring fans he was a married man on Monday by dedicating his victory in the second stage of the Tour de France to his wife Sabrina.

``This win is for her because she says I never think about her, which is not true,'' he said after winning a sprint finish at the end of the 247-km stage from Den Bosch in the Netherlands.

The 29-year-old from Lucca in Tuscany is often referred to in the media as a playboy because of his good looks.

Cipollini, demoted in Sunday's first stage for blocking eventual winner Frederic Moncassin, crossed the line first in Wasquehal to register his 17th victory this season.

His merciless sprint in Sunday's stage, in which he finished third before being demoted to 37th, showed why is rated one of the world's best sprinters.

Later he apologised to Moncassin and congratulated him for his win. ``I told him I was sorry if I did stand in his way and I told him his sprint was brilliant,'' said Cipollini.

On Monday, the Italian took his revenge with a stylish win, his fourth in the world's greatest cycle race, in which he briefly wore the coveted yellow jersey in 1993.

Like all sprinters, Cipollini has experienced painful moments, the worst coming in the second stage of the 1994 Tour of Spain in Salamanca when he crashed into the barriers. His injuries forced him to miss the Tour de France that year.

Cipollini first sat on a bike when he was six years old and a few weeks later he won his first sprint in a village race near Lucca. ``But they said that I didn't have the same bike as the other kids,'' he said. ``The flowers were already in the boot of the car but we had to give them back.''

These days, flowers come by the truck load. But he does not always win and when the race enters the hills the heavily-built Cipollini plans to call it a day.

His early withdrawal from the Tour will allow him to prepare for the Olympic Games road race later this month. ``I've been dreaming about it for a year or so and it's my main goal this season,'' said Cipollini.

Ruling on Zulle's Prologue Bike

The spiffy bike that Alex Zulle of ONCE used to win the prologue was disqualified by the Tour organizers. They said the tail fin above the back wheel is against the rules because it only has an aerodynamic purpose. The regulations say all parts on the frame must be there for functional reasons. The decision is a shock for ONCE. Members of the Spanish team - the top worldwide - have ridden the bike a dozen times since the 1995 Tour of Spain. The decision could hurt Zulle and other members of ONCE in the upcoming time-trials.

No Longer the Playboy

Mario Cipollini, the Italian sprint king, is fed up with his image of being the Tour's 'playboy' and is desperate to emphasise his new mature image.

This image took a knock with his disqualification from third place in Sunday's first stage, interfering with eventual stage winner Frederic Moncassin 300 metres from the finish.

However, the 29-year-old from the Tuscan village of San Giusto Compito (84 inhabitants) is quick to dispel the belief that he is the 'Italian Stallion.'

"Those days are long gone. I am happily married and no longer go to discos and the beach with different girls. I am a serious person now," said Cipollini.

He is upset too at the criticism raised when he appeared dressed as a Sultan and surrounded by three nude girls as a cycling promotion.

"George Weah, the world footballer of the year, appeared naked on another advertisement and received no criticism. Yet I appear dressed up with three naked girls and receive nothing but criticism. I hope that other members of the peloton follow my example!" Cipollini added.

Cipollini has yet to finish a Tour de France, though he wore the yellow jersey in 1993 before abandoning, and won two stages last year before also retiring, and he doesn't intend going very much further this time.

"My main aim is to win the Olympic Gold medal. If I rode for a French team I would be programmed to ride in the whole of the Tour de France, but that is not the case and last year I had ridden in 18 races before I started the Tour, so physically I am not strong enough to finish the Tour," said Cipollini.

"However, next year my aim is to win the green points winners jersey and the last stage into Paris. That would ensure my nickname of 'Il Magnifico' was justified," he added.

Cipollini, on form with four wins in the Tour of Italy but nagged by tendinitis, has not always had the rough and tumble of sprint finishes his way. None more so than when he clashed with rival and teammate Adriano Baffi in the 1994 Tour of Spain.

Cipollini had agreed to help Baffi win the sprint into Salamanca, but realising he was stronger than Baffi, who was battling it out with Laurent Jalabert, he came up the inside of Baffi.

Baffi closed him out and Cipollini crashed heavily into the barriers ending his season. Baffi left the team soon afterwards, and the two still do not speak to this day, both blaming each other for the crash.

Signore Salutini, their team boss at the time, had no doubts who was to blame, saying: "I believe that 80 percent of the blame lies with Adriano and 20 percent with Mario."

Cipollini has shown, as Jalabert has done after his dreadful crash in the 1994 Tour de France, amazing resilience and courage to come back and take on the manic sprint finishes which even top Belgian veteran Johan Museeuw, winner of last year's World Cup series, is reluctant to get involved in.

Cipollini has realistically only until Thursday to capture a stage as the mountain stages approach, terrain that emphatically does not suit him and his fellow sprinters.

If he is no longer with the Tour next week the race will be all the poorer but one can look forward to a longer stay by 'Il Magnifico' next year.