For Andy Hampsten, a year's labor will culminate today in the Tour de France's final individual time trial from Tours to Blois through the Loire River Valley.
Hampsten, of Boulder, Colo., remained in third place after Thursday's 132-mile stage from Montlucon to Tours was won by Thierry Marie of France in a sprint finish.
The race ends Sunday in Paris, and Miguel Indurain of Spain is expected to extend his advantage over second-place Claudio Chiappucci of Italy when the 130 remaining riders compete in the 40-mile time trial.
Indurain's 30.4 m.p.h. performance in the Luxembourg time trial 10 days ago stunned his rivals and set up his challenge for the leader's yellow jersey, which he took in the Alps on Saturday.
"No doubt, Indurain will win this against-the-clock, but probably with less of a lead because the course is less difficult and Gianni (Bugno) has the legs for it," Laurent Fignon, winner in 1983 and '84, told reporters.
Chiappucci is expected to finish second for the second time in three years because he is a respectable time-trial cyclist. Third place, however, is anything but decided.
Hampsten is 8 minutes 7 seconds behind Indurain, but not that far ahead of some good time-trial riders. Pascal Lino of France is fourth, 9:22 behind, Bugno is fifth, 10:09 behind and Pedro Delgado is sixth, 11:50 behind.
Hampsten finished 56th, 8:29 behind Indurain in the Luxembourg time trial. He also lost 4:48 to Bugno and 4:23 to Lino.
Hampsten, 30, said in June he would have to dramatically improve his time-trial racing to have a chance in the Tour de France. His best finish was fourth in 1986 when he helped Greg LeMond become the first American to win the race.
Hampsten stayed in Switzerland last winter to prepare specifically for time-trial racing as much as any event this season.
AFTER 18 OF 21 STAGES
1. Miguel Indurain (Spain), 89 hours, 56 minutes, 25 seconds.
2. Claudio Chiappucci (Italy), 1:42 behind.
3. Andy Hampsten (United States), 8:07.
4. Pascal Lino (France), 9:22.
5. Gianni Bugno (Italy), 10:09.
6. Pedro Delgado (Spain), 11:50.
7. Erik Breukink (Netherlands), 15:54.
8. Giancarlo Perini (Italy), 15:56.
9. Stephen Roche (Ireland), 17:12.
10. Franco Vona (Italy), 19:22.