Sorensen's painful fall from contention may be too early to suit LeMond

When he took the lead in the Tour de France on Sunday Denmark's Rolf Sorensen was quick to admit he expected to fall out of contention sooner or later.

What Sorensen didn't think is that it would come so soon because he was forced to fall out of the race entirely.


That is what will now happen before today's sixth stage, since Sorensen fell and broke his collarbone near the end of yesterday's 92-mile trip from Reims to Valenciennes in north-central France.

"It is virtually certain he will not be at the start," said Jean-Marie LeBlanc, director of the Tour de France.


It gave the leader's yellow jersey to three-time winner Greg LeMond But LeMond lost the lead after today's stage to France's Thierry Marie.

It also clearly illustrates the perils of the 23-day Tour, even during the flat stages that are usually uneventful -- if high-speed -- rides decided by a final sprint.

Yesterday's was the third such stage in a row, with several more to follow before the race moves into the Pyrenees in a week. It would have ended with no significant developments until Sorensen fell just 2.4 miles from the finish.

Sorensen landed on his head and shoulder after unsuccessfully trying to avoid Andy Bishop of Tucson, who had fallen in front of him. Sorensen borrowed a teammate's bike to finish the stage.

"I only realized I was hurting so much after I crossed the line," said Sorensen, who has led the 2,448-mile race since the third stage.

A tearful Sorensen later asked if he had finished fast enough to keep the yellow jersey. Told that he had, Sorensen said, "Perhaps I will start the race [today] but only to put the jersey on for the last time. I'll climb on the bike and then I will drop out."

"It's not a nice way to take the jersey, but that's what happens in the Tour," LeMond said after finishing 16th in yesterday's stage. "There is constant pressure, and you are riding inches apart.

"There are 100 possibilities for something that can go wrong. You have to stay highly concentrated. This was a very fast, aggressive stage. We were averaging between 28 and 30 mph."


Toward the end of the stage, LeMond, his "Z" teammates and the rest of the leaders led a successful 40-mph chase of a breakaway by Italy's Claudio Chiappucci, who is 48th, 2:33 off the lead. A year ago, when he finished second, Chiappucci was part of a first-stage breakaway that gave him a 10-minute lead. LeMond did not wipe that out until the next-to-last stage.

"I was a little nervous for a couple minutes," LeMond said. "I didn't want to give anything away to Chiappucci."

Still, LeMond would have preferred not to take the yellow jersey until later. Along with wearing one of the most coveted garments in sports comes some pressure to defend it, meaning LeMond and his team might be inclined to react to attacks by other riders.

"I won't be trying to defend it," LeMond insisted. "It's too much a drain of energy. I want to save energy for the [45-mile] time trial Saturday.

"I won't kill myself to keep it. Rolf killed himself, because it was great publicity for his team. It's better for me to be within striking distance until the Pyrenees [July 18-19] and Alps [July 23-24]."

LeMond already has had to contend with the theft of his unique, carbon-fiber bicycle before Monday's stage. He had brought two spares and was having three more shipped to him from California.


He is now closely trailed by two riders from the Dutch-based PDM team -- Sean Kelly of Ireland and Erik Breukink of the Netherlands.

Kelly, 35, one of the best sprinters and perhaps the most universally admired rider on the pro circuit, slipped into third ahead of Breukink. Kelly is 10 seconds behind Sorensen and one second behind LeMond, while Breukink, 27, is now six behind Kelly.

At some point, PDM will have to choose between Kelly and Breukink as the man to support in the battle against LeMond, 30.

Marie takes lead

LE HAVRE, France (AP) -- Thierry Marie of France took the overall lead in the Tour de France by winning the sixth stage today in a near-record breakaway.

The day's leg was a 161-mile stretch in northern France from Arras to Le Havre. Marie moved away from the pack early and built up a 22-minute margin by midrace. He won by 1 minute, 53 seconds over the pack.


Marie started his move with 145 miles left in the stage. The longest breakaway in the Tour's history was 157 miles in 1947 by Andre Bourlon of France.

Leader Greg LeMond's camp was not too happy when Marie took the lead today.

"It's too early for us to have the yellow jersey," said Roger Legeay, director of LeMond's Z team.