PAU, FRANCE, JULY 18 -- It began as a murmur some time last week, turned into whispers that passed quickly through the Tour de France community, and has now reached a roar: "LeMond."

Who but the boldest prognosticators, after all, would have mentioned Greg LeMond's name as a likely winner when he was 10 minutes back, or even when he was seven minutes back? But now, the American trails by five seconds with four days of racing to go, and no one is shy about predicting him as the winner on Sunday.

Dimitri Konyschev made an appearance on the podium today as the first Soviet to win a Tour stage, but there was no change in the standings among the top riders.

Italy's Claudio Chiappucci still wears the leader's yellow jersey, with LeMond five seconds back and Spain's Pedro Delgado 3 1/2 minutes behind. Two days of road racing, an individual time trial and the rush to the Champs Elysees in Paris are all that remain in the 21-stage race.

Canadian Steve Bauer wore the Tour leader's yellow jersey for 10 days, but had fallen back and apparently decided today was the day to win a stage. So he pedaled hard on the hot roads to Pau. However, after three hours out front, he crossed the line in third place, just 10 seconds behind Johan Bruyneel and 11 seconds behind Konyschev, who finished in 4 hours 8 minutes 25 seconds.

LeMond didn't expect to lose or gain time on Chiappucci, but he was involved in a scare halfway through the race as a tire went flat on his way up the last mountain. He waited for his team car to make its way up the narrow road -- made narrower by bicycles, cars and spectators -- to come to his rescue. And as he waited, the leading pack, including Chiappucci, rode on.

Although the Italian and his entourage surged ahead to a two-minute lead, there were still 75 kilometers of rolling hills -- no mountains -- to cover. LeMond's teammates dropped back to take turns riding with him and eventually the American was exactly where he wanted to be, in the pack with the yellow jersey.

The principal road from Lourdes to Pau is about 40 kilometers directly northwest, but Tour organizers always find a way to make travel more interesting for the riders. So the course of 150 kilometers dipped south, then west and then north up to Pau, going up and down in the Pyrenees before the riders bade the mountains goodbye.

LeMond said after the race that Chiappucci broke an unwritten rule of cycling by attacking when he saw LeMond was having bike trouble. If a top rider is having mechanical trouble, it's not considered good etiquette to capitalize, and LeMond said it left him less than thrilled.

"Well, I'll never forget it, that's for sure," he said. "And it wasn't just Chiappucci, but {Miguel} Indurain and the rest of them, who had already attacked. Usually, when you see someone who's in the lead who flats, you don't attack again. I won't forget it."

His problem worsened when his two closest teammates found themselves 30 seconds back. "I had to wait for them to change wheels, but then the gears {of LeMond's bike} weren't in sync and the wheel kept slipping, so I had to change bikes, and I lost about a minute."

LeMond said the two teammates who came to help him get back in the race "were a lifesaver. I just imagined everybody in the front powering away, and that I'd have a hard time coming back."

Still, LeMond didn't really anticipate gaining five seconds on Chiappucci yesterday, and said he expects to wait for Saturday's time trial to make up the difference. And he's not exactly pessimistic.

"I'll have to ride a very bad race and he'll have to ride a very good one to beat me," LeMond said.


93-Mile Leg From Lourdes to Pau

1, Dimitri Konyshev, Alfa-Lum, Soviet Union, 4 hours 8 minutes 25 seconds; 2, Johan Bruyneel, Lotto, Belgium, 1 second behind; 3, Steve Bauer, 7-Eleven, Canada, 11; 4, Jean-Claude Collotti, RMO, France, 32; 5, Davide Cassini, Ariostea, Italy, 32; 6, Reynel Montoya, Ryalcao, Colombia, 32; 7, Pascal Simon, Castorama, France, 32; 8, Dominique Arnaud, Banesto, France, 34; 9, Laurent Biondi, Histor, France, 2:59; 10, Peter DeClercq, Lotto, Belgium, 3:38; 11, Stephen Hodge, ONCE, Australia, 3:39; 12, Miguel Indurain, Banesto, Spain, 5:31; 13, Claudio Chiappucci, Carrera, Italy, 5:31; 14, Pelio Ruiz-Cabestany, Spain, 5:31; 15, Greg LeMond, Z, Wayzata, Minn., 5:31.

Other Americans

39, Andy Hampsten, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., 5:31; 64, Bob Roll, 7-Eleven, Santa Fe, N.M., 14:23; 69, Dag-Otto Lauritzen, 7-Eleven, Norway, 14:23; 72, Andy Bishop, 7-Eleven, Tucson, Ariz., 14:23; 77, Ron Kiefel, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., 14:23; 124, Norman Alvis, 7-Eleven, Sacramento, Calif., 19:20; 125, Davis Phinney, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., 19:20.

Overall Standings

1, Claudio Chiappucci, Carrera, Italy, 73 hours 41 minutes 46 seconds; 2, Greg LeMond, Z, Wayzata, Minn., 5 seconds behind; 3, Pedro Delgado, Banesto, Spain, 3:42; 4, Erik Breukink, PDM, Netherlands, 3:49; 5, Marino Lejarreta, ONCE, Spain, 5:29; 6, Gianni Bugno, Chateau d'Ax, Italy, 7:48; 7, Eduardo Chozas, ONCE, Spain, 7:49; 8, Claude Criquielion, Lotto, Belgium, 8:40; 9, Andrew Hampsten, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., 9:34; 10, Fabio Parra, Kelme, Colombia, 11:30; 11, Raul Alcala, PDM, Mexico, 11:48; 12, Miguel Indurain, Banesto, Spain, 13:09; 13, Fabrice Philpot, Castorama, France, 13:33; 14, Gilles Delion, Helvetia, France, 14:58; 15, Pelio Ruiz-Cabestany, Spain, 16:24.

Other Americans

32, Bauer, 36:13; 64, Lauritzen, 1:19:02; 85, Kiefel, 1:33:52; 122, Bishop, 1:58:48; 123, Yates, 1:59:44; 130, Roll, 2:04:19; 144, Alvis, 2:22:21; 153, Phinney, 2:43:31.