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  German Rider Foils France's Celebration

By Salvatore Zanca
Associated Press
Tuesday, July 14, 1998; 4:19 p.m. EDT

LORIENT, France — The French almost had another reason to celebrate on their national holiday — one of their countrymen just missed winning the third stage of the Tour de France.

Two days after France won its first World Cup championship, Germany's Jens Heppner edged Frenchman Xavier Jan on Tuesday in the 105-mile stage through Brittany to Lorient.

Heppner moved into fourth place in the Tour, while Denmark's Bo Hamburger took the overall lead with a fourth-place finish on Tuesday. George Hincapie of the United States was third and moved into second overall, two seconds behind Hamburger.

Heppner and Jan broke away from a small pack during the final sprint and was declared the winner, with both timed in 3 hours, 33 minutes, 36 seconds.

The stage contested on Bastille Day marked the return of the Tour to France after three days in Ireland. The stage went south through Brittany from Roscoff to Lorient on the west coast of France.

Hincapie, a member of the U.S. Postal team, was part of an earlier breakaway and earned a second in one of the bonus sprints. However, Hamburger got two wins and a third in the three sprints and gained 14 seconds to take the overall lead,

Hincapie, meanwhile, was upset over the participation of Heppner and Jan in the pace-setting of the small group. He accused Jan and Heppner of failing to push hard during the fast pace.

"With a sprint like that at the end it is different because everyone is so wasted except for those two other guys,'' Hincapie said.

Had Hincapie won the stage, he would have received 20 bonus seconds and claimed the yellow jersey as overall leader.

"I cramped with about 10 kilometers to go,'' he said. "I floated in the back until my legs came back.''

That gave Hamburger the chance to get close enough to take the overall lead.

"We're content with a consolation prize,'' he said as the riders prepared for Wednesday's fourth stage from Plouay to Cholet.

The Tour de France tried to settle down after three hectic days and one hectic night in Ireland.

Britain's Chris Boardman won the prologue and held the leader's yellow jersey for a day before crashing out in Monday's stage to Cork. He sustained a concussion, bruises and deep cuts, and spent the night in a hospital.

The Tour also was beset by a controversy involving the top-ranked French team Festina. A Belgian staff member was arrested last week and accused of possessing performance-enhancing drugs.

On Tuesday, according to judicial sources, he said the steroids found in his car were for the team, not for his personal use.

On Monday night, 186 cyclists and team personnel flew to Brittany in three chartered planes. Most of the rest of the 3,500 people following the Tour went overnight on ferries and arrived just before the start of the stage.

The leg was the shortest of this year's Tour de France outside the time trials. The race finishes in Paris on Aug. 2.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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