BLOIS, France — After a near-flawless Tour de France, Andy Hampsten faltered under the rigors of a 41-mile time trial and fell from third to fourth place with two flat--and for the most part meaningless--stages left in the 2,490-mile race.
"I've never raced on that fast of a course on that level before," Hampsten said. "I blew up. I ran out of energy. But it's not like I didn't prepare or eat the right things. The plan was to start fast and hold on."
Friday's race was a flat, go-for-broke race for the Tour's remaining 130 cyclists. Hampsten recorded some of the fastest splits through the first half of the race before tiring in the last 12 miles.
As expected, race leader Miguel Indurain of Spain extended his lead by easily beating all but current world champion Gianni Bugno of Italy, who passed Hampsten and probably will finish third overall Sunday.
Indurain averaged 32 m.p.h., finishing the course in 1 hour 13 minutes 21 seconds. That was 40 seconds faster than Bugno and 2:28 faster than third-place finisher Dmitri Zhdanov of Russia.
Hampsten finished 5:33 behind Indurain, which means Bugno gained 4:53 on the American. Claudio Chiappucci of Italy lost time to Indurain on Friday and is 4:35 behind.
"It's not like I cracked," Hampsten said. "At the end, I saw flashing lights. I ran out of energy. I would have rather rode all-out and see where I ended up."
Hampsten ended up 27th. Time trials--races against the clock with no team tactics involved--are not Hampsten's forte. He is a mountain climber who gains in the rugged stages.
Barring a major mishap, Hampsten should ride onto the Champs-Elysees on Sunday in fourth place.
"If you took all the June magazines' predictions, you never saw Andy's name mentioned as a race favorite--maybe as a darkhorse," said Jim Ochowicz, director for Team Motorola, Hampsten's team. "Now, well, the experts will have to change their minds. And this is probably the worst Tour de France course for Andy that you can imagine."
This year's Tour has been the fastest in history, thanks in part to flat courses and aggressive riding for daily stage victories.
"My experience has helped me to not freak out and chase every breakaway by riders in the early stages," Hampsten said. "Tactically, I rode a perfect race. I haven't had any bad luck, but I haven't had any good luck, either. My body has held up."
Hampsten was fourth as a team support rider of three-time champion Greg LeMond in Hampsten's first Tour de France in 1986. Since, Hampsten has placed in the top 20 every year, topping out at eighth.
"In 1986, I was naive about the Tour and didn't know how difficult it was mentally and physically . . ," he said. "In some stages of the Tour, you have to ride out of your mind."
Is there a new American king in cycling?
"It's an unfortunate situation because Andy has been a very, very good professional bike racer," Ochowicz said.
"But he has always been considered the second-best American behind LeMond. But LeMond was the best in the world. So, Andy has been in a tough spot and hasn't got the credit that has been due. That already has begun to turn quite a bit."
AFTER 19 OF 21 STAGES
1. Miguel Indurain (Spain), 91 hours 9 minutes 46 seconds.
2. Claudio Chiappucci (Italy), 4 minutes 35 seconds behind.
3. Gianni Bugno (Italy), 10:49.
4. Andy Hampsten (United States), 13:40.
5. Pascal Lino (France), 14:37.
6. Pedro Delgado (Spain), 15:16.
7. Erik Breukink (Netherlands), 18:51.
8. Giancarlo Perini (Italy), 19:16.
9. Stephen Roche (Ireland), 20:23.
10. Jens Heppner (Germany), 25:30.