LAC DE VASSIVIERE, FRANCE, JULY 21 -- The Tour de France's yellow jersey seemed to fit Greg LeMond perfectly. He put it on after today's all-important individual time trial and, with more than a two-minute overall lead in the race, is expected to own the jersey Sunday when the three-week race comes to an end on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Unless something disastrous happens to LeMond on Sunday -- a flat tire or a crash -- he'll win the Tour de France for the third time.
LeMond, the first American to capture cycling's most prestigious event, took the podium today for the first time this year, not for winning the 20th stage, but to put on the yellow jersey worn by the leader.
Starting the stage, he only needed to pick up five seconds on Claudio Chiappucci. Instead, he rode hard enough in the time trial to start the final day with a 2-minute 16-second lead.
"Well, with a two-minute-plus lead, I think that's a comfortable margin and I think I can relax tomorrow," he said. "I have a very good team around me and it won't be a problem unless something catastrophic happens, which I hope not. So tomorrow will be one of the few days I can enjoy the Tour de France."
Three riders have captured the Tour five times. With a victory Sunday, LeMond would join just two others who have won three times. Philippe Thys of Belgium did it in the early 1900s and Frenchman Louison Bobet in the 1950s. Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault have won five times.
Eric Breukink of Holland won today's 28.5-mile time trial in 1:02:40. LeMond finished fifth, almost a minute behind Breukink. But compared with Chiappucci's 17th-place finish, it was more than LeMond needed to move into first.
LeMond said fifth place today suited him fine.
"I'd much rather be fifth and win the Tour de France than to win the stage," he said. "Today, I didn't race the race to win the stage. I raced as hard as I could, but I gauged my effort at the end to beat Chiappucci. When I knew I was so far ahead, I was already thinking victory."
Some experts looked at LeMond's poor spring racing season and said he had relaxed too much over the winter and never managed to get back into proper shape. He didn't finish six of the 11 races he entered.
In the Tour de Trump in the United States, he finished 78th, and he rode even worse in May's Tour of Italy: 195th place. But by June he seemed back on course and finished 10th in the Tour of Switzerland.
He groaned again today when the subject of his preparation was broached. "Look," he said, "I've been doing everything I could since February to get in this condition and it's not by miracle that I'm in this shape now."
He did admit some pressure resulting from the demands on his time over the winter, including visits to the White House and "The Tonight Show".
But he denied allegations that he's a racer with only one goal -- the Tour de France.
"The furthest thing from the truth is that I prepare only for the Tour de France," he said. "I have had so many medical problems over the last four years that I'm not sure even Bernard Hinault or Eddy Merckx could ever come back to this level of racing."
Last year's victory came two years after the hunting accident in which LeMond's brother mistook him for a wild turkey and peppered him with shotgun pellets, about 30 of which are still lodged in his body. As he started coming back the following spring, nagging tendinitis in a leg finally forced him to have surgery when he wanted to be riding in Europe.
LeMond, 29, is not modest about what he's done.
"I've always said the Tour de France never cheats anyone out of a real victory," he said. "It's always the best who wins."
28.5-Mile Individual Time Trial
At Lac de Vassiviere
1, Eric Breukink, PDM, Netherlands, 1 hour 2 minutes 40 seconds; 2, Raul Alcala, PDM, Mexico, 28 seconds behind; 3, Marino Lejarreta, ONCE, Spain, 38; 4, Miguel Indurain, Banesto, Spain, 40; 5, Greg LeMond, Z, Wayzata, Minn., 57; 6, Pello Ruis-Cabestany, ONCE, Spain, 1:28; 7, Dag-Otto Lauritzen, 7-Eleven, Norway, 2:01; 8, Pedro Delgado, Banesto, Spain, 2:21; 9, Philippe Louviot, Toshiba, France, 2:26; 10, Luc Leblanc, Castorama, France, 2:27; 11, Eduardo Chozas, ONCE, Spain, 2:27; 12, Paul Haghedooren, Histor, Belgium, 2:28; 13, Steve Bauer, 7-Eleven, Canada, 2:52; 14, Gilles Delion, Helvetia, France, 3:01; 15, Gianni Bugno, Chateau d'Ax, Italy, 3:12; 17, Claudio Chiappucci, Carrera, Italy, 3:18. Other Americans
30, Andy Hampsten, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., 4:22; 49, Norman Alvis, 7-Eleven, Sacramento, Calif., 5:22; 51, Andy Bishop, 7-Eleven, Tucson, Ariz, 5:24; 71, Ron Kiefel, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., 6:21; 133, Davis Phinney, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., 8:33; 151, Bob Roll, 7-Eleven, Santa Fe, N.M., 9:56. Overall Standings
1, Greg LeMond, Z, Wayzata, Minn., 85 hours 49 minutes 28 seconds; 2, Claudio Chiappucci, Carrera, Italy, 2:16 behind; 3, Eric Breukink, PDM, Netherlands, 2:29; 4, Pedro Delgado, Banesto, Spain, 5:01; 5, Marino Lejarreta, ONCE, Spain, 5:05; 6, Eduardo Chozas, ONCE, Spain, 9:14; 7, Gianni Bugno, Chateau d'Ax, Italy, 9:39; 8, Raul Alcala, PDM, Mexico, 11:14; 9, Claude Criquielion, Lotto, Belgium, 12:04; 10, Miguel Indurain, Banesto, Spain, 12:47; 11, Andrew Hampsten, 7-Eleven, Boulder, Colo., 12:54; 12, Pelio Ruiz-Cabestany, Spain, 13:13; 13, Fabio Parra, Kelme, Colombia, 14:35; 14, Fabrice Philpot, Castorama, France, 15:49; 15, Gilles Delion, Helvetia, France, 16:57.Other Americans
83, Kiefel, 1:39:11; 116, Bishop, 2:03:10; 131, Roll, 2:14:22; 142, Alvis, 2.26:41; 153, Phinney, 2:59:29.