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CYCLING / TOUR DE FRANCE : Indurain Takes a 3:36 Lead Into Last Stage

July 28, 1991|STEPHEN G. BRUNNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MACON, France — America's two best hopes to win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten, summed up their experience of racing a bicycle up, down, and through a country Saturday.

"It's late in July during the Tour," said Hampsten, of Boulder, Colo. "I'm so physically wasted. But what's new?"

LeMond said: "I'm human. Not bionic. My legs are tired. I suffered a lot this Tour."

Neither LeMond nor Hampsten will reach his goal of riding into Paris today with the yellow leader's jersey. It will be worn by Spaniard Miguel Indurain, the overall leader who neared his first Tour de France title by winning Saturday's 35.3-mile time trial from Lugny to Macon. Second-place Gianni Bugno of Italy fell 3 minutes 36 seconds behind overall.

Today's race into Paris will be a showcase for the cyclists who have endured the 22 days and 2,435 miles of this year's tour.

"The Tour de France is the most spectacular event in sport," LeMond said. "Nothing compares to it athletically, except maybe the Olympics."

After taking the early lead in the Tour, the 30-year-old LeMond contracted a viral infection during the second week and lost his quest for a third consecutive Tour de France championship.

"The difference between me and Indurain and Bugno is about one-half percent," LeMond said. "But if you're off by only 2% because you are sick or something, you can lose minutes in the mountains. At this level you can't get sick. It took me one week in the Tour to recuperate."

LeMond seemed to recuperate well and was third behind Indurain and Bugno in Saturday's time trial. He said that he would be back for the 1992 Tour de France, "most likely as the race favorite."

For LeMond and Hampsten, winning is almost everything, although both said they were grateful simply to make it to Paris. Said Ron Kiefel of Boulder, who like Hampsten rides for the Motorola team: "The Tour tests a lot. If you are Greg or Andy, you have to be 100%. You're always walking that fine line between sickness and superior fitness. People don't realize the difficulty of the Tour and the preparation it takes just to compete at such a high level for three weeks. Then you have the potential for serious injuries through crashes each day. You're always on the edge."

Some don't make it to Paris. For example, Norwegian Atle Kvalsvoll of LeMond's "Z" team crashed at 50 m.p.h. while speeding down Col d'Oron Tuesday and suffered a broken collar bone. He continued and finished by climbing L'Alpe d'Huez, a nine-mile climb at a 12% grade. He was forced to retire from the race that night.

Britain's Sean Yates of Team Motorola crashed during Stage 15 and suffered a cut artery in an arm. Yates asked for a tourniquet and pumped 50 miles to the finish line with a bludgeoned arm. He was forced to leave the race the next day.

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