During a Friday morning briefing, Roger Legaey, director of the Z team, made it abundantly clear what was expected of his cyclists over the next three challenging days in the French Alps:
Help Z leader Greg LeMond.
Later, Legaey said: "What we must do is support Greg. He will need all the support he can get. But right now our team is not doing so well."
If there seems to be an air of panic in the LeMond camp, it is understandable. LeMond, a three-time winner of the Tour de France, has little time to catch Miguel Indurain of Spain, who although still in second place behind Pascal Lino of France, is strengthening his position after each stage.
"I would have to say I'm a 1,000-to-1 shot at winning the Tour," said LeMond, who fell from fourth to fifth, but lost no time to Lino or Indurain during Friday's 12th stage.
"Indurain is in the best shape of his life. He's incredibly strong. Unless I have a 100% turnaround, I don't know if I can win."
It might be asking too much, even of a former champion such as LeMond. He fell behind Friday on Mount Saleve overlooking Geneva, which, with gradients of up to 13%, is the steepest climb in this year's Tour. It was the third time LeMond, 31, has struggled in the mountains.
He remained in contention when he caught the main pack three-fourths of the way through the 165-mile stage.
"My climbing is not like usual," LeMond said. "I've climbed much better in the past Tours. This year I'm just not feeling my usual self."
Switzerland's Rolf Jaermann outsprinted Pedro Delgado of Spain in the final 400 meters to win in 7 hours 10 minutes 56 seconds for his first stage victory. It was all the more satisfying because thousands of Swiss fans lined the final climb to the finish at the base of Mount Blanc, continental Europe's highest peak.
For Delgado, the 1988 Tour winner, Friday was a chance to showcase his talents while Banesto teammate Indurain relaxed. Delgado has ridden in support of Indurain for most of the Tour, a turnaround from past years. In 1988, Indurain's job was to carry water from team cars to Delgado.
Delgado was joined by Stephen Roche of Ireland for the day's big move, and they finished second and third, respectively. Neither could hold off Jaermann, who drafted off Delgado to save energy before the final sprint. The tactic, often used in cycling, angered Delgado.
"It was a pity not to win the stage," he said. "Stephen and I did all the work the final 10 kilometers. It was not the proper way to win. But it was a good day for Banesto."
It was good, because beginning today, Indurain will probably take over the leader's yellow jersey from Lino, who has valiantly defended first place for 11 days.
Most experts, including LeMond, say Leno will relinquish the yellow jersey to Indurain, who remains 1 minute 27 seconds behind.
Perhaps standing in his way is Roche, 32, who won the Tour and Tour of Italy in 1987. Roche, in third place, gained more than two minutes on Indurain and trails the Spaniard by 31 seconds. Whether he can continue the furious attacks has been questioned because he suffers from severe back pain.
Whereas Indurain is expected to take the leader's jersey, the pack keeps waiting for LeMond to make his move.
"I refuse to say I'm ever done with this race," LeMond said. "You battle no matter what in this race. The two mountain stages will tell me whether I will lose the whole thing or not. But it's never over; not at the Tour de France."
After today's 157-mile stage, which includes more than 21,800 feet of climbing, it might be a different conclusion.