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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Indurain May Lead, but Pantani Wins Crowd

VAL THORENS, France -- Miguel Indurain will probably win his fourth Tour de France on Sunday but in terms of charisma and panache, he will finish second to Marco Pantani.

While Spaniard Indurain relied on the powerful but cautious riding which has been his trademark, Italian Pantani attacked almost relentlessly every day to emerge as arguably the most exciting rider in cycling.

The Italians, who love extroverts and showmen, have given him several nicknames. One is the Featherless Bird of the Mountains, for his bald pate belying is tender age, and another one is Elefantino (little elephant), because his ears stick out slightly.

Already celebrated as the new Claudio Chiappucci after finishing second in the Giro d'Italia, Pantani proved he was as sparkling as his famous compatriot in Wednesday's stage to Val Thorens.

Pantani, seeking to restore Italy's pride since Chiappucci and Gianni Bugno retired last week, came close to pulling out when he collided with compatriot Alberto Elli after just 22 kilometers in the day's 142-kilometer ride.

He fell on his knee and was treated before telling team director David Boifava he did not feel like going on.

His attack in the last five kilometers was typical of his style. He stood on his pedals, moved in front and nobody was able to react, not even Indurain.

Colombian Nelson Rodriguez, on his way to victory in the stage, was already too far ahead with Latvian Pyotr Ugrumov and Pantani had to be content with his third top three placing in mountain stages on his Tour debut.

Pantani, who burst into the limelight by winning two stages in the Giro, is fifth overall, three minutes 25 seconds behind Indurain after Thursday's stage, and can only dream of second place.

"I'm just 24 and this race comes too early for me," he said. "After the Giro, I felt my second place there was enough for my season and I came to the Tour to help Chiappucci. He's my friend and like me, he's an attacking rider. I admire the way he races."

Pantani is no expert in tactics and he sometimes wastes a tremendous amount of energy for a ridiculous gain in time but his riding style certainly fits the most romantic of sports events better than Indurain's cold efficiency.

"It's a very long time since we have seen a climber as strong as he is," said Frenchman Luc Leblanc, another leade. "I think he will finish second in Paris and he deserves it. When he attacks, you have to be suicidal to follow him."