Indurain All But Crosses Finish Line for 5th Win

LA PLAGNE, France -- Swiss Alex Zuelle lit the fuse, but in the end it was Miguel Indurain himself who blew up his rivals' chances of preventing his fifth consecutive Tour de France win.

Zuelle's magnificent 100 kilometer Alpine breakaway, most of it ridden in searing heat and on his own, to win Tuesday's ninth stage and first mountain section, will go down in tour history among the greatest feats ever.

But the sheer audacity and tenacity of it served only to force Indurain to dig deep into his bountiful reserves and prove once again that he has no peer in modern cycling.

When Zuelle led by almost five minutes going into the final 17 kilometer climb to the mountain-top resort of La Plagne, Indurain had cause to be worried.

The Swiss had started the day ninth overall, four minutes 29 seconds behind the Spaniard, and was in position to take over the race leader's yellow jersey.

But Indurain has class to spare and he showed it in abundance as he left the mountain specialists for dead, roaring up the slope as if he were still on the flat to close the gap on Zuelle.

The exhausted Swiss finally won the 160 kilometer run from Le Grand Bornand in four hours 41 minutes 18 seconds, but Indurain came in second, reducing the arrears to just two minutes two seconds and leaving all his other rivals out of sight and out of contention.

Pavel Tonkov of Russia was third, more than four minutes behind Zuelle, and Indurain's main rival, Tony Rominger of Switzerland, lost more than six minutes on his compatriot.

"It was a great day for me," said the Spaniard, who is not usually given to such grand statements. "There's only one way for me to ride in this race and that's to finish in the top three every day."

The gap between him and the rest is simply too big to bridge.