Showing brilliant form, Greg LeMond and Erik Breukink emerged from one of the most intense stages the Tour de France has seen in recent years, as the leading contenders to win the race’s 77th edition. By regaining almost five minutes of their seven-minute deficit on race leader Claudio Chiappucci, they showed that the Italian was unlikely to hold the yellow jersey much longer.
This Bastille Day stage was only 149km long, but it was so full of action and dramatic twists that race followers were left bemused and dazzled by the action. From the start in Villard-de-Lans, to the finish in St. Etienne, the attacks and counterattacks zoomed out like the fireworks that would conclude the celebrations on this French national holiday.
The stage was finally won by Eduardo Chozas of ONCE, but it was an attack by LeMond — 43km from the stage end — that caused the Tour to take a dramatic new tum. On a short climb out of the solid, stone-built town of Aubenas, LeMond made the move that blew the race apart.
At that point, Chiappucci and his Carrera team had been stretched to their limits in chasing a 30-man break containing LeMond’s second-placed teammate Ronan Pensec. When this group gained 90 seconds on a short, winding climb away from the Rhone Valley, the Frenchman had overcome his overnight deficit of 1:17, forcing Chiappucci himself to join his team in the pursuit. Their chase was successful, but with the gap still at 10 seconds on the six remaining leaders, LeMond counterattacked with Breukink.
The exhausted Chiappucci couldn’t follow. Pedro Delgado was also taken by surprise, although his Banesto teammate Miguel Indurain managed to catch the flying LeMond and Breukink, as did Andrew Hampsten a few moments later. The 7-Eleven leader described what happened: “l saw LeMond go, and then Breukink. I was watching Delgado, but he didn’t react. I think he was waiting for the Carreras to chase — but only Acacio Da Silva was working. I jumped with Boyer where the road was curvy. He wouldn’t pull at first. Then he did, and we got there pretty quickly.”
LeMond and Breukink were riding in tandem to establish as big a lead as possible before reaching the difficult Croix de Chabouret climb, less than 12km away. In so doing, they swept up the six riders ahead of them, and took a 90-second lead over the Delgado-Chiappucci group by the foot of the hill.
There, with the tar melting from a burning sun, Delgado counterattacked with Gianni Bugno, Marino Lejarreta and the young French rider, Fabrice Philipot of Castorama. But yellow jersey Chiappucci had nothing left. He was even dropped by a second chase group, and rode most of the 12km climb on his own. And Pensec, whose attack had opened the way for teammate LeMond’s startling move, was even farther back.
Midway up the Chabouret climb, where huge Bastille Day crowds left only a narrow passage for the riders, the Delgado-Bugno-Lejaneta group was still 75 seconds behind, and looked unlikely to make much more progress on the leaders. But Banesto director Jose-Miguel Echavarri then ordered Indurain to wait for his team captain, and this extra firepower enabled them to close the gap to 20 seconds by the 4000-foot summit.
The pursuit match continued on the technically demanding descent into St. Etienne between LeMond (followed by Breukink, Hampsten, Chozas and Conti) and Indurain (towing Delgado, Bugno and Lejarreta). LeMond, who was opening gaps on his companions on every curve of the fast descent (he covered the last 18km in 17 minutes), increased his advantage to 30 seconds by the finish. The world champion waved the others through to contest the sprint on the wide Cours Fauriel, where the 30-year-old Chozas just outsped Breukink despite swerving to avoid the wall of photographers beyond the line. It was the fourth Tour de France stage win for Chozas, but his first in a sprint.
Behind, the race had been split into 10 separate groups — with Chiappucci coming in with the third (4:53 down) and Pensec with the sixth (at 7:47). Despite the several hills and intense heat — many riders were suffering from dehydration — the stage has been completed at a near record speed of 44.655 kph.
Part of that figure was caused by a super-rapid start by Phil Anderson. The TVM rider attacked as soon as the flag dropped and covered the last 34km in 39 minutes before getting caught by the pack that was intent on getting to St. Etienne as quickly as possible.
Two more breaks flowered and died before the halfway point, where the seeds were sown for the 30-man break that thrust Pensec into the lead. Three men started it, joined by 10 others (including Bauer) and then by the rest (including Pensec and 7-Eleven’s Andy Bishop), as the race crossed the Rhône River at Sarras. Each time, the Carreras had chased down the breaks. But this last one would prove their undoing.
Stage 13: Villard-de-Lans-St. Etienne, 149km, July 14.
l. Eduardo Chozas (Sp). ONCE, 3:20:12 (44.655 kph)
5. LeMond, all s.t.
6. Lejarreta at 0:30
8. Bugno, both s.t.
9. Indurain, at 0:36
10. Dmrtri Konyshev (USSR), Alfa Lum, at 3:09
12. Miguel Martinez-Torres (Sp), ONCE
14. Guy Nulens (B), Panasonic-Sportlife
15. Piotr Ugrumov (USSR), Alfa Lum
20. Palacio, all s.t.
23. Alcala, at 3:09
35. Chiappucci, at 4:53
42. Bauer, s.t.
76. Pensec, at 7:47
79. Kiefel, at 10:12
83. Lauritzen, s.t.
103. Bishop, at 12:26
105. Alvis, s.t.
136. Phinney, at 17:28
153. Yates, both s.t.
1. Chiappucci, 52:49:13
2. Breukink, at 2:02
3. LeMond, at 2:34
4. Pensec, at 4:11
5. Delgado, at 4:39