L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France -- Greg LeMond's drive for a fourth Tour de France title all but ended yesterday on the soul-draining climb up l'Alpe d'Huez, the dragon stage of this race.
The exhausted, foot-swollen American cyclist lost a critical two minutes during the 79-mile stage that wound through a crowd of more than 200,000 to a summit finish line at 6,100 feet in the Alps.
LeMond remained in fifth place after 17 of the 22 stages in the 2,200-mile race. He is six minutes, 39 seconds behind Spain's Miguel Indurain, the tour leader with five days left. Nothing short of a miracle will give LeMond his third straight Tour win and his fourth since 1985.
LeMond avoided reporters after the stage, but was later quoted by Reuters as saying he had never felt so exhausted. "If I feel good tomorrow, I'm planning to attack," LeMond said. "I still want to finish in the top three, but Indurain is too strong to beat."
LeMond finished 14th in the stage, won by Italy's Gianni Bugno. Indurain strengthened his grip on the yellow jersey by finishing just one second behind Bugno. France's Luc Leblanc was third.
LeMond also is in danger of posting his worst finish in six Tour de Frances. He was third in 1984, second in '85 and first in '86. After missing the next two races, he won in 1989 and '90.
Indurain considered his day a success. "Today was a very good stage for me," he said. "Coming in second is good. Now I feel more relaxed."