Italian Mario Cipollini, winner of four previous stages in the Tour de France and the overall leader briefly during the 1993 race, added another victory Sunday and took the yellow jersey.
Cipollini captured the first stage from Rouen to Forges-Les-Eaux, 119.3 miles, in a rush to the finish which gained him 20 bonus seconds. He also gained 8 more seconds along the route in two intermediate sprints.
The powerfully built Cipollini is like a locomotive near the finish line when he is at full speed.
“When I came out of the final corner, I just hit it,” Cipollini said.
He was only 18 seconds behind in the short time trial Saturday, a good result for the Italian who is not used to a sustained effort.
Despite his success on the flats, he is among the first to drop out when the Tour hits the mountains. In four previous Tours, he has dropped out each time.
Cipollini gained 28 seconds on the pack Sunday and moved into the lead by 10 seconds over Chris Boardman, winner of Saturday’s prologue. Bjarne Riis, last year’s overall winner, fell and dropped a minute to the leaders.
Belgian Tom Steels and France’s Frederic Moncassin, two other top sprinters, were second and third, respectively, Sunday.
A group fall with about 6 miles left broke the pack into three groups, hindering some of the favorites, including Riis. The Dane ended up in the second pack, about 58 seconds behind Cipollini.
That put Riis, more than a minute behind Ullrich, his teammate. Ullrich was second to Riis overall last year and was regarded by many as Riis’ chief threat.
Frankie Andreu of Dearborn, Mich., finished 16th, best among Americans.
Tuesday’s second stage is from St.Valery-en-Caux on the northern coast of France to Vire, 162.8 miles.
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