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Tour Roundup

The 1996 Tour de France will go down in sports history as one of the truly vintage events -- one which has included everything that a cycling enthusiast could wish for.

There have been political demonstrations, nails thrown on the road, a strike by the press photographers and official motorcyclists and, of course, the excitement of the race itself.

Bjarne Riis rode into Paris a worthy winner, for he has set new standards in terms of using attack as the best form of defending a lead in the race.

Miguel Indurain, the five-time winner, failed in his bid to win a unique six successive Tours and for those who retain the belief that another five-time winner Eddie 'the Cannibal' Merckx, made a Baron on Friday, is the greatest ever Tour champion that will be a relief.

Indurain bore his defeat with typical gentility and can take some credit for naming Riis as his principal danger before the Tour started.

He reflected the words of Samuel Coleridge, who wrote of the 'Ancient Mariner', that 'he rose a sadder and wiser man the next morning' when he spoke about his defeat.

"You have to know how to accept defeat as well as victory, and I have done that," Indurain said.

Some Tour afficionados believe it is for the better that the Spaniard did not win again. Without doubt, his style of victory was beginning to smother the Tour.

In essence, he relied on winning the time-trials and performing well enough in the other stages to triumph.

Riis' two stage victories added to runner-up spots in two others reflects the difference in style between the two men.

There were several great moments in the Tour, but the stage to Les Arcs on the second Saturday of the three-week event was one of the greatest in Tour history.

France's great hope Laurent Jalabert cracked, perhaps feeling the weight of expectation too much to bear, and his mighty ONCE team too failed to live up to their heralded billing.

Spectators were also treated to the sight of the yellow jersey wearer Stephane Heulot, the French national champion, retiring in tears as he found it beyond him to get back to the leading group for a second time.

Undoubtedly tendinitis had something to do with his flowing tears, but the race too had broken him -- an indication that the Tour respects nobody.

Alex Zulle, another of the ONCE team favourites, crashed twice on the descent from Cormet de Roselend and showed great courage to remount and finish with the leaders.

But his race was run from that day and he was never to recover.

Johan Bruyneel's fall will be etched in the memory forever. The Belgian disappeared into a ravine on the same descent as Zulle, but while his bicycle ended up at the bottom of the ravine the rider was saved by trees and bushes 12 metres below the road level.

Remarkably he climbed back up to the road and yelled: "A bike a bike! The Tour for a bike!" he finished 20th, but retired two days later with achilles tendon trouble.

Les Arcs also revealed for the first time in five years that Indurain was fallible. Having led the leading group and countered any breakaways he was left trailing as Riis, Abraham Olano, Yevgeny Berzin and Tony Rominger among others sped away.

It was a terrible but beautiful image to see the previously unbeatable Spaniard left looking like one of the pack and although he held his own in the next few stages, he is another whose race was finished on that fateful day.

Berzin, the prodigiously talented Russian, fooled his supporters by leading for a day but he again flattered to deceive. Lacking a strong enough team and having raced in both the Tours of Switzerland and Italy he will have to look long and hard at his tactics for next year.

He is talented enough to win but he needs to be better advised and to concentrate on the Tour alone as Rominger, Riis, Olano and Indurain did. His team has been further weakened with the loss of last year's fifth Ivan Gotti to the Saeco team.

It is sad that Rominger failed in his last attempt but three falls did his fragile confidence no good and although his Mapei team stuck together, the only one to finish complete, they were not upto the challenge of Riis and his Telekom team.

Olano, the World road race champion, needs to climb better if he is to succeed Indurain as Spain's next winner -- though he worked his heart out for Rominger.

France still without a winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985 has a lot to be happy about after the performances of Richard Virenque, the first Frenchman to finish on the podium since Laurent Fignon in 1989, and Luc Leblanc.

Virenque, winner of the King of the Mountains for the third successive year, is a contentious individual but he has good reason to be arrogant. He is fearless and charismatic but his personal battle with Leblanc was not in the best taste.

Leblanc shares these attributes and though Virenque criticized his coutryman when he failed to make the pace in their numerous breakaways, Leblanc could be excused as he had fallen twice in the first week.

All in all, it is a tour which will be etched in the memory for the excitement, passion and great sporting ability involved.

Facts and Figures

Facts and figures of the 1996 Tour de France which ended in Paris on

Total distance: 3,746.5 kms 

Number of starters: 198 

Number of finishers: 129 

Winner: Bjarne Riis (Denmark) Telekom 

Second: Jan Ullrich (Germany) Telekom 

Third: Richard Virenque (France) Festina 

Points classification (green jersey): Erik Zabel (Germany) Telekom 

King of the mountains (red polka dot jersey): Virenque 

Best young rider: Ullrich 

Best team: Festina 

Stage winners: 

Prologue: Alex Zuelle (Switzerland) ONCE 

1st stage: Frederic Moncassin (France) GAN 

2nd stage: Mario Cipollini (Italy) Saeco 

3rd stage: Zabel 

4th stage: Cyril Saugrain (France) Aubervilliers 

5th stage: Jeroen Blijlevens (Netherlands) TVM 

6th stage: Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) Rabobank 

7th stage: Luc Leblanc (France) Polti 

8th stage: Evgeny Berzin (Russia) Gewiss 

9th stage: Riis 

10th stage: Zabel 

11th stage: Chepe Gonzalez (Colombia) Kelme 

12th stage: Pascal Richard (Switzerland) MG-Technogym 

13th stage: Rolf Sorensen (Denmark) Rabobank 

14th stage: Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (Uzbekistan) Refin 

15th stage: Massimo Podenzana (Italy) Carrera 

16th stage: Riis 

17th stage: Laurent Dufaux (Switzerland) Festina 

18th stage: Bart Voskamp (Netherlands) TVM 

19th stage: Moncassin 

20th stage: Ullrich 

21st stage: Fabio Baldato (Italy) MG-Technogym 

Yellow jerseys: 

Prologue to 2nd stage: Zuelle 

3rd stage: Moncassin 

4th to 6th stage: Stephane Heulot (France) GAN 

7th to 8th stage: Berzin 

9th to 21st: Riis 

Last 10 winners: 

1987: Stephen Roche (Ireland) 

1988: Pedro Delgado (Spain) 

1989: Greg LeMond (U.S.) 

1990: Greg LeMond (U.S.) 

1991: Miguel Indurain (Spain) 

1992: Indurain 

1993: Indurain 

1994: Indurain 

1995: Indurain 

1996: Riis