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Tour de France : Delgado to Lead 200-Rider Field in Prologue

Associated Press

The Tour de France begins today, with Pedro Delgado of Spain defending his title against a field of 200 riders in the 23-day event.

The world’s most famous cycling race gets under way with a 4.8-mile prologue in the duchy of Luxembourg. The first two official legs, a team time trial and a regular stage, are scheduled for Sunday.

After two days in Belgium, the 2,020-mile journey will cover a counterclockwise route across France’s plains, mountains and valleys before ending on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 23.

The mountain stages in the Pyrenees and the Alps will probably determine the champion. But the time gained on the flatlands of western France could have a bearing on the outcome.

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This year, in a break from the traditional format, the final portion of the race will be a time trial from Versailles to Paris. Instead of the winner riding safely in the pack, the leader will be alone and the followers trying to gain time. If the difference is only a few seconds, the race may be decided on the Champs Elysees.

Stephen Roche of Ireland, the 1987 winner; Greg LeMond, who became the first American to win in 1986, and Laurent Fignon of France, a two-time winner, are looking for another chance to wear the leader’s yellow jersey.

Delgado’s win was tainted when a drug test midway through the race found traces of probenicid, which can be used to mask steroids. He was not penalized, because probenicid was not then on the International Cycling Union’s list of banned substances.

Andy Hampsten, who finished third in the Tour of Italy, is perhaps America’s best hope to win.

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LeMond has had trouble since coming back from a gunshot wound he suffered in a hunting accident. He was far back in the Tour of Italy, although he made a promising effort in the final time trial.

Besides Fignon, the French are rooting for Charlie Mottet, ranked No. 1 on recent performances.

A promising newcomer is Miguel Indurain, 25, of Spain, who got off to a fast start this year by winning the Paris-to-Nice race.

Others who could make a challenge for the $220,000 first prize include Luis Herrera of Colombia, Steven Rooks of the Netherlands and Sean Kelly of Ireland.

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