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By John Wilcockson
If you were left scratching your head after Monday’s stage of the Tourde France, bewildered by the closeness of the 52km time trial, you weren’talone. After extensive research, VeloNews has ascertained that this was the closest result in a “long” time trial since the individual raceagainst the clock was introduced to the Tour in 1934. Never before havesix riders finished within a minute of the stage winner — and it mighthave been seven if Tyler Hamilton hadn’t flatted with about 12km to go.
The closest that any previous Tour time trial of more than 50km hascome was in 1988, when four men finished within a minute of stage winnerSean Yates of Fagor. What was more unusual about that stage in the northof France, between Lièvin and Wasquehal, was the fact that 30 riders— yes 30 — finished within two minutes of Yates. Spain’s Pedro Delgado,who went on to win that Tour, was 12th that day, 1:18 behind Yates.
The next closest 50km-plus time trials were in 1984 and 1935, when threeriders finished within a minute of the stage winner. The next-to-last stageof the ’84 Tour through the vineyards of Burgundy was controversial foranother reason: The 51km time trial was hand-timed by French timekeepers,who gave the decision by less than half-a-second to Frenchman Laurent Fignon,who was wearing the yellow jersey. Runner-up Sean Kelly seemed to havea reasonable case in claiming that the result was a fix. The others whofinished within a minute of Fignon that day were two other Tour legends,Bernard Hinault (at 0:38) and Greg LeMond (at 0:40).
Remarkably, there was a very similar result to the first time trialof the 1935 Tour, a 58km stage along Lake Geneva to Evian. In that secondindividual time trial in Tour history, Italian Raffaele Di Paco beat FrenchmenAntonin Magne and Maurice Archambaud by two seconds and seven seconds respectively,while Belgian Romain Maes (who would win that Tour) came in fourth at 0:40.
These are the results of all those time trials, compared with this year’sremarkably close stage 9:
Stag 9: Lanester to Lorient
1. Botero, 52km in 1:02:18; 2. Armstrong, at 0:11; 3.Gontchar,0:18; 4. Gonzalez de Galdeano, at 0:19; 5. Bodrogi, at 0:25; 6. Rumsas,s.t.; 7. Millar, at 0:50.
Stage 6: Lièvin to Wasquehal
1. Yates, 52km in 1:03:22; 2. Visentini, at 0:14; 3. Rominger, at 0:23;4. Nijdam, at 0:41; 5. Solleveld, at 0:49; 6. Bugno, at 1:04. (Final Tourwinner, Delgado, was 12th at 1:18.)
Stage 22: Villié-Morgon to Villefranche-sur Saône
1. Fignon, 51km in 1:07:19; 2. Kelly, s.t. (at half a second); 3. Hinault,at 0:38; 4. LeMond, at 0:41; 5. Anderson, at 1:24; 6. Arroyo,at 2:17. (Fignon was the Tour winner.)
Stage 5b: Geneva to Evian
1. Di Paco, 58km in 1:37:24; 2. Magne, at 0:02; 3. Archambaud, at 0:07;4. R. Maes, at 0:40; 5. Mauclair, at 1:36; 6. Bernard, at 2:09. (R. Maeswas the Tour winner.)
Monday’s stage 9 also bears close resemblance to early-in-the-race timetrials where the defending champion was narrowly beaten by the rider whowould go on to win the Tour. The first of these was in 1958, in a 46kmtime trial held at Châteaulin, not far from Lorient. The other wasin 1991, in a 73km stage to Alençon — where stage 6 of this year’sTour finished.
In ’58, the defending champion was Jacques Anquetil, who lost the hillyChâteaulin stage by just seven seconds to Luxembourger Charly Gaul— who went on to win that year’s Tour using his incomparable climbing strengthto overcome a big deficit on the last stage in the Alps.
The defending champion in ’91 was LeMond, who was looking forhis fourth Tour victory. It was quite a shock when Indurain — who’d beena team rider for Delgado up to that point in his career — defeated theAmerican by eight seconds.
Is history going to repeat itself? Will Santiago Botero, who defeatedLance Armstrong by 11 seconds on Monday, become the first Colombian towin the Tour de France?
These are the results from 1958 and 1991:
Stage 8: Châteaulin circuit
1. Gaul, 46km in 1:07:12; 2. Anquetil, at 0:07; 3. Planckaert, at 0:13.
Stage 8: Argentan to Alençon
1. Induráin, 73km in 1:35:44; 2. LeMond, at 0:08; 3.Bernard, at 0:13; 4. Breukink, at 1:14; 5. Bugno, at 1:31; 6. Mauri, at1:33.