GENEVA, JULY 9 -- Italy's Massimo Ghirotto outsprinted breakaway companion Eduardo Chozas of Spain today to win the ninth stage of the Tour de France, the last leg before the race moves into the Alps.
Ghirotto and Chozas, both stage winners earlier in the three-week race, crossed the line in 4 hours 46 minutes 7 seconds after a 50-mile ride in the front.
Frenchman Christophe Lavainne launched a late chase six miles before the finish in Geneva to snatch third place, 16 seconds behind.
"When Chozas attacked, I took the chance to follow, without too many hopes. But things turned out right," said Ghirotto, a farmer's son from Padua.
The main bunch, including overall leader Steve Bauer of Canada, crossed the line in blazing sunshine 36 seconds behind Ghirotto, at the end of an eventful 122.5-mile stage that gave the 186 riders their first taste of the arduous climbs to come.
Ghirotto, a balding 29-year-old, and Chozas, a born climber who won mountain stages in 1985, 1986 and 1987, launched the decisive charge in the main ascent of the day, the Col des Rousses.
They built up a lead of 2 1/2 minutes in the valley over a nervous bunch, constantly led by defending champion Greg LeMond of the United States and his teammates.
LeMond, Bauer, Giro d'Italia winner Gianni Bugno, Mexican star Raul Alcala and Ireland's Stephen Roche all watched one another closely at the head of the pack and finished with the same time.
The Alps should claim more victims in Tuesday's 74-mile 10th stage, which leads the riders toward the foot of Mont Blanc, Europe's highest peak.
Bauer, who complained of the heat today, said his yellow jersey could soon be threatened.
"I'll have to do a superb job in the next week and a half. I'll need to suffer up to the limit. I hope it's not beyond my abilities."
NINTH-STAGE RESULTS 122.5-mile leg from Besancon, France to Geneva
1, Massimo Ghirotto, Carrera, Italy, 4 hours 46 minutes 7 seconds; 2, Eduardo Chozas, ONCE, Spain, same time; 3; Christophe Lavianne, Castorama, France, 16 seconds behind; 4, Brian Holm, Histor, Denmark, 19 behind; 5, Philippe Louviot, Toshiba, France, 19; 6, Jorg Muller, TVM, Switzerland, 19; 7, Gilles Delion, Helvetia, France, 25; 8, Giuseppe Calcaterra, Chateau D'Ax, 27; 9, Bjarne Riis, Castorama, Denmark, 27; 10, Andreas Kappes, Toshiba, West Germany, 37; 11. Frans Maassen, Buckler, Netherlands, same time; 12. Johan Museeuw, Lotto, Belgium, same; 13, Marc Sergeant, Panasonic, Belgium, same; 14, Carlo Bomans, Weinmann, Belgium, same; 15, Hans-Rudi Marki, Helvetia, Switzerland, same. Americans
53, Greg LeMond, Z, Waysata, Minn., 37 seconds behind; 97, Ron Kiefel, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., same time; 98, Andy Hampsten, 7-Eleven, Boulder, same; 141, Andy Bishop, 7-Eleven, Tucson, 7:46; 161, Bob Roll, 7-Eleven, Santa Fe, N.M.,. 9:47 behind; 174. Davis Phinney, 7-Eleven, Boulder, 14:38; 175, Norman Alvis, 7-Eleven, Sacramento, Calif., same. Overall Standings
1, Steve Bauer, 7-Eleven, Canada, 39:18:47; 2, Ronan Pensec, Z, France, 17 seconds behind; 3, Maassen, 1:16; 4, Claudio Chiappucci, Carrera, Italy, 1:07; 5, Raul Alcala, PDM, Mexico, 7:19; 6, LeMond, 10:09; 7, Uwe Ampler, PDM, East Germany, 10;14; 8, Sean Kelly, PDM, Ireland, 10:15; 9. Guido Winterberg, Helvetia, Switzerland, 10:26; 10, Vintyeslav Ekimov, Panasonic, Soviet Union, 10:26; 11, Erik Breukink, PDM, Netherlands, 10:32; 12, Pello Ruiz Cabestany, ONCE, Spain, 10:35; 13, Miguel Indurain, Banesto, Spain, 11:01; 14, Brian Holm, Histor, Denmark, 11:12; 15. Gianni Bugno, Chateau d'Ax, Italy, 11:24. Other Americans
43, Hampsten, 14:10; 58, Kiefel, 15:18; 151, Roll, 29:32; 167, Bishop, 34:12; 171, Phinney, 35:27; 173, Alvis, 36:35.