21-MINUTE VICTORY MARGIN
Thursday July 13, 1989
The clouds that had accompanied the Tour to half-distance were banished at last and the riders had hot sunshine and a deafening chorus of cicadas all day. There was also a 220-kilometre break to concern them, for it finished 21 minutes ahead. Then there was a 30-rider crash.
As if that wasn’t enough, demonstrators threw tree branches across the course. But in the end, all this and much more failed to change the top overall positions as the Tour flew faster than the fastest schedule, further east to meet the Mediterranean at last.
Two lowly-placed Italians were allowed to dominate the stage with the third greatest winning advantage over the bunch in the history of the race. They were winner Valerio Tebaldi (Chateau d’Ax) who outsprinted Giancarlo Perini (Carrera) in a time of 5-40-54 for the 242 kilometres.
The Frenchman who sparked the break when he took the Catch sprint at Saussens after only 20 kilometres, Dominique Arnaud (Reynolds) had also been a driving force which took them 29 minutes ahead of the main field after 136 kilometres.
But then fate twice took a dislike to him. He punctured after 171 kilometres, at Le Mas Nouguier, just after being placed second to Perini at the fourth-category climb of the Cote du Mas-Bouquet. Arnaud regained his companions but 40 kilometres further on he took a bend too fast and tumbled into the ditch. From which he extricated himself to ride the last 24 kilometres alone to take a safe third place, 2-9 behind Tebaldi, but 19 minutes ahead of the pack.
A strong tail-wind blew the race through the beautiful national park of the Haut Languedoc, a deserted country full of lakes and rivers and old villages along the route.
Tebaldi, Arnaud and Perini soared to a massive lead on the long gradually climbing road which rose 265 metres in 45 kilometres. At the highest point, at the town of Labastide Rouairoux (100km) they were 21 minutes ahead.
They went even faster on the similarly graded downhill run which lasted some 30 kilometres on wide, sweeping roads, so that after 156 kilometres, they reached their maximum advantage of 29 minutes which made them 40 minutes ahead of the fastest schedule based on 38kph. Even the pack was slightly up on schedule, without giving chase.
Eventually, race leader Laurent Fignon ordered his Super-U troops to lift the pace, not so much to pull back the runaways but to imprison his three main rivals overall, Greg LeMond, Charly Mottet and Pedro Delgado.
Christophe Lavainne put in the most work as the distinctive yellow and black striped French team flooded the front of the peloton, now rushing along the narrower, winding roads in the last 30 kilometres.
A monumental crash at Clermont l’Herault brought down 30 men, including the principal climbers, leader of the classification Gert-Jan Theunisse and Robert Millar. Both rejoined the field. But Denis Roux (Toshiba) suffered a head injury and was to finish last, 161st, 20 minutes behind the main pack and 41 minutes behind Tebaldi.
Demonstrators had forced Tebaldi and his two companions to squeeze through the blockade of tree branches at around 26 kilometres to go.
The police hurriedly cleared the road of protestors and their placards as the main field rushed through, led by motorbike cops who looked for a moment as if they had joined forces with Super-U. For five or six police outriders had blanketed the front only inches ahead of the pack, in case of more problems. In a few more kilometres, they pulled away and left the riders space.
But with the overall leaders content to let matters rest, more lowly-placed men escaped to take what pickings they could. Thomas Wegmuller (Domex) attacked in the final kilometres to take fourth place at 21-24.
Seven more jumped the field to chase him in, led by his team-mate Jan Goessens, fifth. Britain’s Sean Yates (7-Eleven) was 14th and Sean Kelly (PDM) 15th in the big pack a few seconds later.
But for stage winner Tebaldi, this was his second Tour stage win following his victory at Rheims in last year’s Tour, also from a long break with one other rider.
And his excellent day’s work promoted him from 155th and 1-9-40 down, to 90th at 47-55. Perini, second, also moved up from 158th to 101st, at 50-41. And Arnaud, the man who had most to gain, moved up from 55th at 34-44 to 25th at 15-8.
The fast pace proved too much for four riders who abandoned the stage. They included a sick Soren Lilholt the former points leader before Sean Kelly took over. Ireland’s Paul Kimmage (Fagor) also abandoned, deeply demoralised after struggling for many days.
1. Valerio Tebaldi (Ita) Chateau d’Ax 5-40-54
2. Giancarlo Perini (Ita) Carrera at st
3. Dominque Arnaud (Fra) Reynolds at 2-9
4. Thomas Wegmuller (Swi) Domex at 21-24
5. Jan Goessens (Bel) Domex at 21-40
1. Laurent Fignon (Fra) Super-U 55-52-12
2 Greg LeMond (USA) ADR at 7secs
3. Charly Mottet (Fra) RMO at 57secs
4. Pedro Delgado (Spa) Reynolds at 2-53
5. Andy Hampsten (USA) 7-Eleven at 5-18
1. Gert-Jan Theunisse (Ned) PDM 154pts
2. Robert Millar (GB) Z-Peugeout 136pts
3. Pedro Delgado (Spa) Reynolds 116pts
1. Sean Kelly (Ire) PDM 182pts
2. Etienne De Wilde (Bel) Histor-Sigma 142pts
3. Giovanni Fidanza (Ita) Chateau d’Ax 112pts
1. Sean Kelly (Ire) PDM 51pts
2. Valerio Tebaldi (Ita) Chateau d’Ax 50pts
3. Dominique Arnaud (Fra) Reynolds 35pts
1. Reynolds, 167-39-33
2. PDM at 10-56
3. BH at 20-12