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Relieved Marie in splendid isolation

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THIERRY MARIE, winner of last Saturday’s prologue in Lyon, will ride through his beloved Normandy today resplendent in the Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey.

Marie, his eyes as blue as cornflowers, his hair as golden as corn (this is a local newspaper’s description, by the way) struck for home yesterday some 15 miles outside Arras and rode alone and unaided to Le Havre, a further 145 miles, to win the stage and recapture the maillot jaune.

It was a formidable effort by a man who specializes in being the fastest against the clock over distances of less than 10 kilometers. He has won three Tour de France prologues in the past six years, his only other stage win being at Chalon-sur-Saone in 1988.

The cobbled square in Arras was thronged with excited, animated French and Belgians yesterday morning. They deeply love their cycling in the north and if there was disappointment over the loss of Rolf Sorensen the mood was quickly dispelled.

Another long, hot day was in prospect and few paid much notice when Marie first broke. Then two minutes became three, nine became ten, and finally, his lead had stretched to more than 20 minutes. Marie was lost, as was nearly everybody else when a sea-fret drifted in from the Channel.

Nobody in the peloton was much troubled, save for Sean Kelly and Djamol Abdoujaparov who had started the day with designs of sprinting past Greg LeMond into the overall lead. Marie, of the Castorama team, although well capable of getting over the Pyrenees and Alps, was not a threat to LeMond, Bugno, Breukink, Delgado et al. And anyway, they figured, he would tire.

He did. Particularly in the last six miles when he looked as if he were riding his bike through a mire. ‘I was surprised I was not caught,’ he admitted, his eventual winning margin having been reduced to just under two minutes.

Unusually, the day began without any rider wearing the yellow jersey. With Denmark’s Sorensen having retired with a broken collar-bone, LeMond was the new race leader as the peloton left Arras. However, the American refused to wear the mailslot.

Belgium’s Eddy Merckx made a similar gesture in 1971 after Spain’s Luis Ocana lost the yellow jersey after falling on the summit of the Col de Mente in the Pyrenees.

The Tour de France organizers hate to see the leader’s vest lost through an accident, and there was much talk yesterday about the modern dangers of stage finishes in town.

Roundabouts, sleeping policemen or sudden narrowing of roads intended to slow down cars and lorries are all legitimate obstacles. However, when nearly 200 cycle riders swoop into town in a bunch such features are positively dangerous.

There seems no solution, particularly as all towns where the race starts and finishes pay a flat fee. Ultimately, however, town centers may have to be avoided, although it would obviously detract from the excitement.

There were more crashes yesterday, one involving Scotland’s Robert Millar who hurt his neck and lost 5min 50sec. ‘Everybody is nervous and is straining to ride at the front. This is causing more accidents,’ he said before going off to seek an osteopath. It is a hard, hard race.

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