The Tour was heading south, the thermometer was rising, and the race’s main contenders were already thinking ahead to the next day’s time-trial showdown. And after an initial flurry of action out of Poiters — a bonus sprint taken by Bortolami from Museeuw and Andreu, and a determined solo break by the never-say-die Durand — the pace did settle down: Only 34.4km were covered in the second hour.
Then, Durand again went into action, this time trying to break clear with KoM leader De Clercq. Just after they were caught, the peloton turned off a wide route nationale into a narrow, rolling back road. This was the signal for a series of probing attacks, the most serious being a move by 23 men — including Alcalá and Ekimov — which gained 25 seconds, before Indurain’s Banesto boys closed it down after a 10km chase. A counterattack came from Cabello and Stephens; another came from Novemail-Laser’s Guy Nulens… and this one sparked the break that made it.
At a time when the pack was split by a 250-meter gap, Telekom’s Rolf Aldag and TVM-Bison’s Bo Hamburger caught Nulens; followed by Paolo Lafranchi (Mercatone Uno); and then by Fernando Escartin (Mapei-CLAS), Melchor Mauri (Banesto), and Angel Camargo (Kelme-Avianca). Finally, local man Luc Leblanc (Festina) crossed to the leaders in the feed zone (at 108km)… and raced straight through the lead group. Camargo latched onto the Frenchman, and they were joined by Aldag and Hamburger.
Those four riders were chased briefly by Abdujaparov (who was followed by Museeuw); but once Abdu’ sat up, the break quickly moved away. Leblanc, Camargo, Hamburger, and Aldag reached Nontron (139km) 6:45 ahead of the pack… and had a maximum lead of 8:10 shortly after the day’s first climb, 73km from the finish.
Leblanc, who was now the virtual race leader by almost four minutes, was too dangerous a rider to be given any more freedom. The 27-year-old Frenchman placed fifth in the 1991 Tour, and performs best in hot weather… and in this break on familiar roads, he was riding exceptionally well. Realizing the need to close the gap, Indurain ordered his big men Marino Alonso and Erwin Nijboer to take charge of the chase. And when the Banesto riders were helped by Museeuw’s GB-MG team (with apparent ally WordPerfect), the gap slowly descended: 6:25 on La Chapelle Notre Dame climb (44km from home), 5:35 with 25km to go, and 4:40 at the 10km point. The break wasn’t going to be caught, but the chasers did cut another two minutes from the gap before the line.
Approaching the final kilometer, the Colombian, Camargo, surprised the others in the break by jumping 50 meters clear. Only Hamburger reacted, and took about half of a gradual 800-meter-long climb to join the Kelme-Avianca rider. Then, when the road flattened, Hamburger gave Camargo no chance: With a sizzling burst of speed, the Dane captured only the second victory in his four years as a pro (the first win was a minor Belgian race, the Circuit of the Flemish Ardennes, three months ago).
As for Leblanc, he received the biggest cheers from the thousands massed on this verdant Dourdogne hillside above Trelissac, even though he crossed the line in fourth, falling 1:03 short of his yellow-jersey dream.