Riis Controls Tour as Race Heads to Spain With Weak Indurain
LOURDES-HAUTACAM, France (AP) _ For once, the Tour de France heads into Spain without Spaniard Miguel Indurain firmly ensconced in first place.
The party in Pamplona today will be somewhat subdued since Indurain, the local hero and five-time champion, conceded defeat after he lost more time to overall leader Bjarne Riis in Tuesday’s climb in the Pyrenees.
``I gave it all I had today,″ said Indurain, who finished 12th Tuesday, 2 minutes, 38 seconds behind Riis. ``I still hope to be on the podium in Paris, but first place will certainly go to Riis.″
On his 32nd birthday, Indurain fell back to 10th overall, seven minutes, six seconds behind Riis, who won Tuesday’s 124-mile stage from Agen to Lourdes-Hautacam when he pulled away from the field in the final miles.
Only three other men have won five Tours _ French riders Jaques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault and Belgium’s Eddy Merckx. At the start of the Tour, Indurain was the favorite to win his sixth straight.
Indurain showed early he wasn’t in winning form, losing more than four minutes to the leaders in the climbing stage July 6 in the French Alps. After a week in France’s Massif Central, many thought Indurain would attack Tuesday.
But when Riis broke with 4.4 miles to go in front of hundreds of thousands of cheering fans, a struggling Indurain quickly faded.
The defending champion now appears destined to be in the fight for second or third place by the time the 21-stage race ends Sunday in Paris.
World road race champion Abraham Olano and Mapei teammate Tony Rominger are sitting in second and third overall, and team officials said the Mapei squad is looking to limit the damages in today’s stage.
``Wednesday’s stage is very important to the team. We want to hold our position through the Pyrenees all the way to Paris,″ team spokesman Gabrielle Sola said.
Other riders seemed convinced the race is all but over, although there are still five stages remaining, including today’s tough 164-mile climbing stage over the Pyrenees and the final time trial Saturday.
``Today, Miguel Indurain lost the Tour and today Bjarne Riis won it,″ French rider Laurent Dufaux said after finishing third in Tuesday’s stage just behind France’s Richard Virenque.
As the Tour heads into Spain for two stages, there’s concern that a Basque separatist group could disrupt the race as it heads through the Basque region of Spain. Race officials are hoping to avoid conflicts by broadcasting race information in Spanish, French and the Basque language during today’s and Thursday’s stages.
Following Tuesday’s stage, race officials and members of the Motorola cycling team flew by helicopter to hold a memorial service at the site where Italian rider Fabio Casartelli died in a cycling accident in last year’s Tour.
Casartelli was 24 when he was killed last July 18 after crashing head-long into a concrete barrier on a steep descent on the Col de Portet d’Aspet, nearby in the Pyrenees.
Besides the Motorola team, others attending the memorial included officials from the Societe du Tour de France and American racer and ex-teammate Frankie Andreu.
``It’s a solemn moment, but we’re going there for Fabio. We’re going to be there for him,″ said Motorola team manager Jim Ochowicz. ``It’s a sad thing to think about.″
Casartelli, a 1992 Olympic champion and Motorola team rider, was the first Tour racer to die since England’s Tom Simpson fell off his bike and died in 1967, and the first Tour rider to die as a result of a crash since Spain’s Francesco Cepeda in 1935.