Stage 7 Reports

Tour de France Stage 7 as it happens

[This report draws on the reports on France's Europe 1 radio. All times real race time -- Central European Time]

The stage includes the HC Madeleine (Sean Yates says it's going up "the hard way... and it's bloody hard. It's constant for 19km with a few harirpins at the bottom and less at the top."). After the Madeleine at 79km, the riders tackle the Cat 1 Cormet-de-Roseland (163km) and the stage finishes at the summit of the Cat 1 Les Arcs.


There have been two abandons in the first few kilometres: Stefano Colage (Refin) and Leon Van Bon (Rabobank). There have been attempts at attacks by Jacky Durand (Agrigel) and Laurent Roux (TVM), but now the peloton is all together. The first sprint of the day (Bourgneuf -- 29.5km) was taken by Erik Zabel (Telekom) with Bo Hamburger (TVM) second and Thierry Gouvenou (Aubervilliers) third.


The peloton, still all together are at the foot of the Madeleine (La Chambre -- 58.5km). There has been no rain yet today, but the sky is threatening. As the 19km climb begins, Luc Leblanc (Polti), who lost nearly four minutes yesterday after a crash, attacks...


With 8km to go to the summit we join a crackly commentary from a motorbike. There are about 20 riders out in front.The front group includes Bjarne Riis and Brian Holm (Telekom), Richard Virenque (Festina), Miguel Indurain (Banesto), yellow jersey Stephane Heulot (GAN), Luc Leblanc (Polti), Tony Rominger and Abraham Olano (Mapei) and Alex Zulle (ONCE). Laurent Broachard (Festina) and Chris Boardman (GAN) are 25 seconds back, but the news of the moment is that Laurent Jalabert (ONCE) is 45 seconds off the lead group.


With 1km to the summit, riding through mist and rain, Holm and Riis are slightly in front of all those mentioned in the 13.05 report except for yellow jersey Heulot who is chasing alone at 45 secs. Also mentioned in the lead group this time are Evgeni Berzin (Gewiss) and Laurent Dufaux (Festina). What is described as "the Chris Boardman group" (Boardman + Brochard? +??) is at 1.35. Jalabert is dropping further back -- he is now at 2.50.


The position over the summit (km79) in what is obviously an incomplete listing are: 1. Virenque, 2. Indurain, 3. Zulle, 4. Rominger 5. Berzin 6. Tour de Suisse winner Peter Luttemberger (Carrera), 7. Leblanc. No mention of Boardman, but yellow jersey Heulot was at 1.35 and Jalabert crosses the summit 4.35 down. The lead group are said to be taking no risks on a dangerous descent on slippery roads through thick mist.


We are now, as far as I can hear, at about km100 on the descent, with Riis hanging 45 secs ahead of the rest of the lead group, _including_ Indurain, Virenque, Zulle, Olano, Berzin. Notably, yellow jersey Heulot has bridged to this group. At 2.50 is what is again described only as the "groupe Boardman" though it plainly no longer includes Brochard, who is further back at 3.15. Jalabert has slipped further back -- he is now at 4.50.


A break of three is near or at the feed at Albertville (123km). They are Patrick Jonker (ONCE), Alberto Elli (MG Technogym) and Udo Bolts (Telekom).I take it these were in the 20 original leaders up the Madeleine. They have 1 minute on the main lead group as described before. At some point on the descent Rominger crashed but was brought brought back to the yellow jersey (Heulot) group by team-mates Olano and Spanish champion Fernandez Gines. Behind the Heulot group is Boardman at 1.40 (I don't know if he is alone or with other riders). Jalabert is now in a group of 13 some 5 minutes back. Europe 1 has him rather melodramatically with his head bowed in defeat, in line behind team-mates Melchor Mauri and Roberto Sierra. Also in this group of 13 are Laurent Brochard and Pascal Herve (Festina) and Pascal Lino (Roslotto).


140km out with the Cormet de Roseland soon to come. The Jonker-Bolts-Elli group is rolling along nicely with a lead that is now 3.05 on the 30-strong yellow jersey group. To recap, apart from Heulot, this includes Zulle, Virenque, Indurain, Leblanc, Bersin, Rominger, Olano and -- a new name -- Christophe Moreau (Festina). Chris Boardman is still some way behind this group and said to be "in difficulties" at this particular point. Further back but now only at 3 minutes of the yellow jersey group is the Jalabert group. Jalabert is fourth in line with team-mate Melchor Mauri on the front working hard for him.


Eight kilometres into the mist-wreathed climb of the Cormet-de-Roseland, Bolts is 1.15 ahead of Elli and Jonker, with Dufaux 2.30 behind him. At 3.05 is the yellow jersey group, with a couple of new names mentioned --- Laurent Madouas (Motorola) and Bo Hamburger (TVM). At 6.15 to Bolts is the remanants of the Jalabert group which shattered on the first bends of the Cormet de Roseland. In this stretched out group, in no particular order, are Mauri, Herve, Jesus Montoya (Motorola), Orlando Rodrigues (Banesto), Rpberto Sierra (ONCE) and Mauri, Lino and Brochard. Jalabert moved clear of this to rejoin Christophe Moreau, Chris Baordman, and Prudencio Indurain (falling back after helping his brother earlier on the climb. Jlabert seems to have gone past these, though it's not certain -- whatever, he's riding on his own.


Bolts passed the summit first with 1.15 over Dufaux. At 2.05 the Induraingroup in the order Virenque, Riis, Indurain, Leblanc, etc. Heulot had been dropped from this group and was in great difficulty on the climb. He is seen stopped by the roadside consulting Roger Legeay. "Visibly it's finished for Stepahen." comments Marc Madiot on the radio. And no sign yet of Jalabert as Joose Maria Jimenez, P. Indurain, Vicente Aparicio, and then Viatcheslav Ekimov cross the summit. No mention of where Baordman may be or what state he's in. Somewhere on the climb Zulle had attacked but was brought back straightaway by Indurain.


Drama! Sad times -- still on the climb yellow jersey Stephane Heulot abandons. And Jalabert crosses the summit 7.15 behind Bolts


Ten kilometres to the finish on the way up to Les Arcs Bolts is still in the lead, with 1.15 on 1.15. Furrther back the Indurain group has been joined by Aitor Garmendia and Fernando Escartin is also mentioned. Jalabert is at 7.30 to Bolts.


Nearing 3km from the line and Leblanc is closing on Dufaux who is in front, Bolts is out of the picture. Leblanc overtakes Dufaux. Behind Zulle is looking troubled but not as troubled as Indurain is beginning to look. Olano, Rominger and Riis leave him behind as does Zulle. Then Hamburger comes past him. It's "fringale", hunger knock, the bonk... Indurain struggles on,then asks for a bottle from his car. Up the road Leblanc is winning. I honestly don't know who came second. Rominger? Virenque? Dufaux? Too much excitement on the radio. But Indurain comes in 4.17 down on Leblanc and 3 minutes or more on Leblanc, Rominger, Olano, Riis and Berzin. Berzin takes the yellow jersey, with Rominger second. There is still no sign of Laurent Jalabert 10.40 after Leblanc crosses the line..... phew!

Miguel Suffers

Spain's five time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain's nightmare seventh stage -- one of the most remarkable in Tour history -- appears to have blown this year's race wide open and made it potentially the most exciting in years.

The 31-year-old Spaniard, seeking a record sixth consecutive win, has not endured a worse day in the saddle since he was an ordinary workrider for Pedro Delgado in the late 1980s.

There was little sign in the leadup to the final climb of Les Arcs that anything was amiss.

Indurain appeared to be his usual imperturbable self, countering the attacks of his main rivals like Alex Zulle of Switzerland, and content that another serious challenger -- Frenchman Laurent Jalabert -- was struggling well behind his leading group of 30 or so riders.

But it was Zulle, who survived two falls on the descent from Cormet de Roselend, and his ONCE teammate Aitor Garmendia who sewed the seeds for Indurain's shock reverse.

Garmendia, a former teammate of Indurain's, set the pace of the lead group up Les Arcs and evidently played on whatever weakness he could recall Indurain possessed.

Ultimately, Zulle, too, paid the penalty as leading rivals Tony Rominger of Switzerland, Yevgeny Berzin of Russia and Bjarne Riis, the Danish champion and third overall last year, broke away -- leaving Indurain and the Swiss to trail in over three minutes behind them and over four minutes behind stage winner Luc Leblanc of France.

It was the sight of Indurain struggling and desperate for refreshment that really stunned the spectators -- though it must have given his challengers an enormous psychological boost to see the God of the Tour was mortal after all.

Frenchman Richard Virenque, attempting to win his third successive King of the Mountains title, was astonished. "I could not believe it. We were all there with Indurain to the fore and then when the others broke he just appeared to cycle on the same piece of road. Truly, it is the most remarkable sight I have seen on the Tour," Virenque said.

Indurain is a remarkable champion and cannot be discounted yet, but should he perform disappointingly in Sunday's time-trial -- where he has been unbeatable in previous years -- then the game is surely up.

To add to Indurain's misery, the race jury were considering adding 20 seconds onto his time for asking for a bottle within prohibited distance of the finish. He will have regretted not taking a drink when Zulle offered him one earlier on the climb to Les Arcs.

Berzin, who retired from the Tour last year with bronchitis, took the overall leader's yellow jersey by just 16-hundreths of a second over world champion Abraham Olano of Spain.

Berzin, though, did not sound optimistic about retaining the yellow jersey all the way to Paris. "It was a very difficult day for me, but I can at least dream about winning the Tour," the 26-year-old 1994 Tour of Italy winner said.

But asked if he was afraid of the challenge ahead he said: "If I was afraid I would go home."

Leblanc, the 1994 world road race champion, attacked on the final climb and overhauled longtime stage leader Laurent Dufaux of Switzerland to speed away and win by over 40 seconds from Rominger with Austrian Peter Luttenberger in third place. "It was an extraordinary day for me. My team worked so hard for me yesterday, when I had my second fall in the week, so I dedicate this victory to them. They were marvellous," Leblanc said.

Dufaux was dsiappointed he had not managed to hold on. "I have won two Dauphines but never a stage of the Tour de France, it would have been special, but that's life," he said.

The stage, once again raced in appalling conditions, ended Jalabert's hopes of becoming the first French cyclist to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985. Jalabert, the world number one, was left behind on the steep ascent to Madeleine and although teammates Melchor Mauri and Roberto Sierra tried to help him back in to the race, he finished more than 12 minutes adrift of Leblanc.

Apart from Zulle's two falls, Belgian Johan Bruyneel had a narrow escape when he fell 12 metres into a ravine on the descent from Cormet de Roselend, although he remounted and continued without suffering any apparent injury.

The former yellow jersey wearer, Frenchman Stephane Heulot, abandoned during the stage, citing tendinitis in his right knee.

The Frenchman's GAN teammate Chris Boardman, Britain's Olympic and world pursuit champion, had a dreadful day as well and reflected on it afterwards. "It was a catastrophe for me today. I got back to the main group after the climb to Madeleine but I was incapable of staying with them. Its terrible for the team and for Stephane Heulot -- but that's the Tour de France!" Boardman said.

Heulot abandons on Stage 7

Frenchman Stephane Heulot, the yellow jersey leader, abandoned the Tour de France during Saturday's seventh stage. Heulot, the Fremch national champion, retired with tendinitis in the right knee.

The 24-year-old teammate of Olympic and World pursuit champion Chris Boardman was left by the peloton on the first category climb to Cormet de Roselend.

Heulot, in tears, stopped for two minutes but was encouraged by team boss Roger Legeay to continue -- finally retiring from the stage 20 metres later. He had predicted his retirement on Friday saying: "The weather has taken its toll and I have got tendinitis."