Tour's finale far from grand Usual revelry clouded by doping scandals

August 03, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS -- Marco Pantani became the first Italian in 33 years to win the Tour de France, but it was a depleted and demoralized group of riders who crossed the finish line on the Champs-Elysees yesterday.

After dominating his rivals in the Pyrenees and Alps, Pantani's lead was so secure that he was able to ride the final 91-mile leg from Melun to Paris in the middle of the pack and withstand a flat tire late in the leg. But his victory was accompanied by little of the usual clowning and antics by fellow riders, because of the ever-present drug scandal that enveloped the three-week race even before it began in Dublin, Ireland, on July 11.

In a normal year, this Tour would be recalled for some wonderful racing, including what could become a legendary stage in the rainy and foggy Alps in which Pantani crushed his main rival, Jan Ullrich, the defending champion from Germany.

But as Bobby Julich said after becoming the first American since three-time winner Greg LeMond to finish in the top three in the Tour, "Ten years down the line you may see an asterisk."

Ullrich finished second this year, 3 minutes, 21 seconds behind. Julich was 4: 08 out of first place.

Pantani at least will receive a hero's welcome in Italy today, where he will be acclaimed Campionnissimo -- champion of champions. The last authentic one was the fabled Fausto Coppi, who won the Tour de France in 1949 and 1952.

It is a title that is not easily earned, but one that Pantani claimed by winning the Tour only two months after winning the Tour of Italy, the world's second-ranked bicycle race to everyone except the Italians.

The future of this 95-year-old race remains an open question. Already there is talk of a boycott next year by foreign teams, with the Spaniards leading the way. Four Spanish teams and an Italian team quit the race last week to protest what they regarded as the violation of human rights by the French police who have been investigating allegations of the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The unprecedented turmoil included the expulsion on July 17 of the world's top-ranked team, Festina from France, after its coach said he had supplied his riders with illegal drugs.

In all, two dozen riders, coaches, team doctors and masseurs have been taken in for questioning, and a quarter of them have been charged. Five Festina riders have admitted using the artificial hormone EPO, or erythropoietin, and the TVM team from the Netherlands is due in a French court today to testify.

The 96 riders remaining of the 198 who started made up the smallest total since 1983, when 88 finished what 140 began.

Graham Jones, a Briton who rode five Tours from 1979 to 1987, characterized the situation as a crisis, "the biggest that we've ever seen in cycling."

"A pity, a shame, a crisis for all of us," said Eddy Merckx, the Belgian champion who won the Tour five times.

Stephen Roche, the Irishman who won the race in 1988 and played a leading role at the start in Dublin, called this "a very rough time" but added hopefully that "some good has to come out of it."

With such a traumatic backdrop, perhaps it was fitting that Pantani emerged the winner.

Pantani was hit by a car in the minor Milan-Turin race late in 1995, fracturing his legs. He spent the rest of that season and most of 1966 on crutches.

Last year he had recovered, but bad luck struck again in the Tour of Italy in June 1997, when, of all things, a black cat crossed the road and caused a mass crash that took Pantani down. He finished third in the Tour, the same placing he had in 1994.

"It's unbelievable what he's gone through, the sacrifices and pain he has known," Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said.

Final stage

(91-mile leg from Melun to Paris)

1. Tim Steels, Mapei, 3 hours, 44 minutes, 36 seconds.

2. Stefano Zannini, Mapei, same time.

3. Stuart O'Grady, GAN, same time.

4. George Hincapie, Charlotte, N.C., U.S. Postal, same time.

5. Erik Zabel, Telekom, same time.

6. Robbie McEwan, Rabobank, same time.

7. Mario Tranversoni, Mercatone Uno, same time.

8. Francois Simon, GAN, same time.

9. Damien Nazon, FDJ, same time.

10. Alain Turicchia, Asics, same time.

11. Aert Vierhouten, Rabobank, same time.

12. Massimiliano Mori, Saeco, same time.

13. Cedric Vasseur, GAN, same time.

14. Bo Hamburger, Casino, same time.

15. Rossano Brasi, Polti, same time.

Also

19. Frankie Andreu, Dearborn, Mich., U.S. Postal Service, same time.

25. Viatcheslav Ekimov, U.S. Postal Service, same time.

42. Tyler Hamilton, Brookline, Mass., U.S. Postal Service, same time.

55. Jean-Cyril Robin, U.S. Postal Service, same time.

59. Marty Jemison, Park City, Utah, U.S. Postal Service, same time.

65. Bobby Julich, Glenwood Springs, Colo., Cofidis, same time.

68. Dariusz Baranowski, U.S. Postal Service, same time.

69. Kevin Livingston, Cofidis, same time.

70. Peter Meinert-Nielsen, U.S. Postal Service, same time.

87. Pascal Derame, U.S. Postal Service, same time.

Final standings

(After 21 stages)

1. Marco Pantani, Mercatone Uno, 92 hours, 49 minutes, 46 seconds.

2. Jan Ullrich, Telekom, 3 minutes, 21 seconds behind.

3. Bobby Julich, Glenwood Springs, Colo., Cofidis, 4: 08.

4. Christophe Rinero, Cofidis, 9: 16.

5. Michael Boogerd, Rabobank, 11: 26.

6. Jean-Cyril Robin, U.S. Postal, 14: 57.

7. Roland Meier, Cofidis, 15: 13.

8. Daniele Nardello, Mapei, 16: 07.

9. Giuseppe Di Grande, Mapei, 17: 35.

10. Axel Merckx, Polti, 17: 39.

11. Bjarne Riis, Telekom, 19: 10.

12. Dariusz Baranowski, U.S. Postal, 19: 58.

13. Stephen Heulot, FDJ, 20: 57.

14. Leonardo Piepoli, Saeco, 22: 45.

15. Bo Hamburger, Casino, 26: 39.

Also

17. Livingston, 34: 03.

38. Ekimov, 1: 22: 40.

45. Meinert-Nielsen 1: 29: 52.

48. Jemison 1: 38: 45.

51. Hamilton, 1: 39: 53.

53. Hincapie, 1: 40: 39.

58. Andreu 1: 53: 44.

84. Derame, 2: 26: 25.

Pub Date: 8/03/98

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