L'ALPE d'HUEZ, France — Bernard Hinault clasped hands with American teammate and rival Greg LeMond moments before the Frenchman won the 18th stage of the Tour de France bicycle race Monday.
"It was the most beautiful image we could give to the sport," Hinault said of his gesture with LeMond, just before surging ahead to win the mountainous, 101-mile stage in 5 hours 3 minutes 3 seconds. "It's really the team that wins, not two men."
LeMond, the first American to wear the leader's yellow jersey in the Tour's 83-year history, retained his overall lead of 2 minutes 47 seconds over Hinault, the five-time champion.
Switzerland's Urs Zimmermann of the Carrera team came in third at 5:14 behind and fell to third place overall. American Andy Hampsten, a member of Hinault's and LeMond's La Vie Claire team, was sixth on the stage and moved up to fourth place overall.
LeMond and Hinault escaped together about 60 miles into the stage.
"I told Greg to let me set the pace, and if ever Zimmermann caught up to us, he should take off after him," Hinault said.
LeMond took the overall lead from Hinault on the 17th stage Sunday. He stayed with Hinault through the steep run up l'Alpe d'Huez.
Hinault protected the 25-year-old Californian from the abuse of spectators who want a French champion.
"When I heard that the public was reproaching LeMond because he was keeping on my wheel, I really felt bad for him," Hinault said. "I won't allow them to treat him like a wheel-sucker. Greg is very afraid of hostile reactions, and that's why I told him to put himself right behind me, and to stick to my tail.
"When we got to the finish line, the public got a different image of the sport, one that provoked a very different reaction."
LeMond was thankful for the help.
"Hinault's very strong," he said. "You've got to admire his strength of character, and his great qualities. Today, he took all the climbs in the front. I think our chances now are very good. I could still have a fall, and in that case Bernard would win, but I'm in good position now."
Today is the riders' only rest day of the 23-stage Tour. They face their third consecutive high mountain stage Wednesday with the 112-mile 19th stage from Villard de Lans to St. Etienne. The race ends July 27 in Paris.
Nine riders dropped out on the stage, leaving 135 from a record field of 210 who started the race July 4 in Paris. One of the riders was American Eric Heiden, winner of five gold medals for speed skating at the 1980 Winter Olympics.