GAP, France -- By word and deed, Greg LeMond did his best yesterday to dispel the rumors about his health. With a stunning second place in a sprint finish and a gain of 26 seconds on the leader of the race, LeMond managed to sway a few people.
He was far less successful with his words. "I'm feeling normal, a little tired but looking forward to seeing what happens," he said this morning before the Tour de France began its third and last transition stage between the Pyrenees and the Alps.
But his comments did not stop the speculation about the American rider, who is seeking his third consecutive victory in the world's greatest bicycle race.
According to various rumors heard in the morning, LeMond was (a) not planning to start the stage, (b) suffering from a viral infection, (c) sleeping badly, if at all, because of swollen feet, (d) not expecting to compete in the Alps because of any or all of the above.
LeMond managed to eliminate most of rumors by attacking alone near the end of a rolling stage of the race over the 215 kilometers (133 miles) from Ales to Gap.
A few kilometers later he was joined by Marco Lietti, an Italian rider with the Ariostea team, and they rode strongly and cooperatively to the final line. Lietti, a good sprinter, pulled away with 200 meters to go to win the 16th stage in 6 hours 6 minutes 39 seconds.
LeMond, who rides for the Z team, was two seconds slower but just as pleased. Lietti gave Ariostea its third consecutive victory in the Tour de France, but LeMond scored the more impressive tour de force.
When the main pack finished 28 seconds behind Lietti, the leader of the race, Miguel Indurain of Spain, had to be telling
himself to stop listening to rumors.
Still fifth overall, LeMond closed to within 4:42 of Indurain.
And now, into the Alps.
Today the Tour climbs to Alpe d'Huez alond 21 hairpin turns that will be packed, as aways, by up to half a million spectators.
"It's a tremendous feeling, almost overwhelming," said LeMond, who has twice finished second by half a bicycle wheel after the 8.6-mile climb to the resort atop the 1,860-meter peak. "It's awesome."
"That's a point where the spectators outdo all other spectators," said Andy Hampsten of the Motorola team. "The energy of the crowd, you can't help but absorb it.
"All those spectators are insane," he continued. "They've got heatstroke or something. They really go wild."