Desbiens Still Leads Tour de France
By Salvatore Zanca
Monday, July 20, 1998; 3:03 p.m. EDT
With all the talk about drug scandals, heat, the Irish start and Chris Boardman crashing out while in first place, maybe it is time to race in earnest.
Laurent Desbiens, who missed the Tour de France two years ago while serving a drug suspension, remained in the overall lead Monday after the ninth stage.
With temperatures scorching at 104 degrees for a second consecutive day, Dutch rider Leon Van Bon won the sprint for the stage victory over Germany's Jens Voigt.
Because of the heat and two days of mountain stages coming up, most of the favorites conserved their strength, allowing lesser riders to vie for the stage victory.
On Tuesday, with the first day of the mountain stages in the Pyrenees, cool weather and rain are expected.
Last year, Germany's Jan Ullrich took control in the Pyrenees and never lost the lead. For the moment, he is fifth, 3:21 behind, but he still holds large margins over his major rivals.
The 123-mile 10th stage from Pau to Luchon will feature four major climbs. On Wednesday comes another mountain stage with five more big climbs.
Desbiens, who finished almost four hours behind Ullrich last year and placed 127th, knows his days wearing the yellow jersey are numbered.
"Tomorrow will be difficult but it's great to come into the mountains with the yellow jersey,'' he said.
Desbiens was suspended for six months in 1996 after he was found to have used the steroid nandrolone during a race in France.
Bo Hamburger of Denmark is 1:18 behind Ullrich in sixth place. Bobby Julich of the United States is seventh in the same time as Hamburger.
Ullrich doesn't view Desbiens as a threat. He is looking at others.
"That my big rival, Richard Virenque, is no longer in the field doesn't make things any easier for me,'' Ullrich said. "I've always seen Spain's Abraham Olano as my main rival.''
Virenque and the rest of the Festina team were ousted from the Tour on Friday night in the aftermath of a drug scandal that has plagued the race from the start.
Team director Bruno Roussel was placed in police detention with the team doctor and they were moved to Lille for further investigation.
Roussel admits supplying illegal drugs to his riders, prompting the Tour to expel the top-ranked Festina team the rest of the way.
Roussel, team doctor Erik Ryckaert and team masseur Wily Voet remain in police custody and are expected to appear in court July 24. Before then the rest of the Festina team may be summoned by police in Lille.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press