Uphill Racer : Greg LeMond Uses the Slopes to Stretch His Lead Over Fignon in Tour de France
American Greg LeMond turned the steep slopes of the much-feared Col d’Izoard to his advantage today to shore up his lead in the Tour de France.
He extended his 40-second lead over Laurent Fignon of France by 13 seconds in the 107-mile 16th stage won by Pascal Richard of Switzerland.
LeMond’s most dangerous rival, Pedro Delgado, severely tested the American on the awesome final ascent to the top of the 7,740-foot-high Izoard pass, kicking away on one of his powerful attacks.
But LeMond hung on, and within minutes it was the Spaniard who was struggling to keep up as the rider with the yellow jersey pelted down the other side of the mountain at a terrifying, almost suicidal, speed.
Only Charly Mottet of France, third in the overall standings, could stay with him as the race favorites hurtled down the descent to Briancon.
Steven Rooks of the Netherlands nearly toppled over the precipice on a tight corner as he forced his front wheel back from the edge of the narrow road.
But Delgado, fourth overall, Rooks and Gert-Jan Theunisse of the Netherlands caught LeMond and Mottet in the last few hundred yards of one of this year’s most exciting stages.
“It was a good day for me,” LeMond said. “I did the best I could in the climbs to stay with Delgado. Every time there was a problem I managed to get back with Charly.”
Fignon, who could not resist Delgado’s attack on the climb, failed to make up all the deficit and finished 13 seconds behind LeMond and Delgado.
“Thirteen seconds is not much,” he said. “But 40 seconds plus 13 is starting to add up. I must stop the rot. I just couldn’t keep going in the climbs.”
LeMond, racing in the tour for the first time since winning it in 1986, has never been noted as a great climber.
But he answered questions about his staying power when he, like Theunisse and Mottet, chased Delgado near the top of the Izoard to catch him just before the summit.
If he can resist the challenge again in Wednesday’s 17th stage to L’Alpe d’Huez, the toughest of the Tour with three climbs of more than 6,500 feet and a steep final ascent to the ski resort, LeMond should win the tour.
The 23-day Tour officially ends on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday, but the winner’s name may emerge at L’Alpe d’Huez. The last four days of the race should be little more than a triumphal parade for the rider who ends up wearing the leader’s yellow jersey after Wednesday.
In the women’s tour today, Jeannie Longo of France strengthened her lead by taking the sixth stage easily.
Longo won by almost two minutes in the 32-mile leg from Guillestre to Briancon. She was timed in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 29 seconds. Maria Canins of Italy, like Longo a two-time champion, was second, 1:55 behind, and trails overall by 5:31.
American Inga Thompson took third in the stage, 2:58 back of Longo, and solidified her hold on third place.
The women’s tour this year is 482 miles long and has 11 stages, ending Sunday just before the men’s tour on the Champs Elysees.