SAINT-BRIEUC, France -- Outsider Jacky Durand of France made the most of the early dry weather yesterday to win the prologue time trial of the Tour de France as the favorites saw their hopes washed away in a rainstorm.
Tony Rominger of Switzerland and four-time defending champion Miguel Indurain of Spain were unwilling to take risks during the 4.5-mile time trial, and finished well down in the provisional standings.
It was a day when staying upright on the wet, slippery track was vital.
Britain's Chris Boardman went all out in the rain and it was costly, as he crashed into the railings on a slow corner. The winner of last year's prologue was hospitalized with a broken wrist and a double fracture of an ankle.
Durand, a local hero, crossed the finish line in 9 minutes, beating Thierry Laurent by two seconds and Francis Moreau by three, as Frenchmen finished 1-2-3 on the opening day of the Tour. Rominger was 26 seconds behind, five seconds ahead of Indurain, who finished 35th.
"What a surprise," Durand said. "When I saw the rain coming, I started believing in my chances."
The three top finishers were early starters and profited from the dry roads.
Lightning, high winds and driving rain robbed most of the 189 riders of a fair chance to challenge Durand and turned the first night Tour race into an anti-climatic event.
"I've never seen anything like it," said France's Thiery Marie, a specialist of the short time trials. His challenge ended in the rain, 19 seconds short.
Indurain played it safe and even declined to use his special time trial bike, opting for his regular bike for increased stability.
He is seeking a fifth consecutive victory in cycling's premier event, unprecedented in the Tour's 92 years.
If he is successful over the 23-day, 2,254-mile trek through France, he will earn a place alongside Belgian Eddy Merckx and Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault as five-time winners.
L What sets Indurain apart is that he can do it in succession.
Yesterday, Boardman's crash after a daredevil challenge put a damper on the opening night.
"It's too bad for him," Durand said. "I would have preferred to see him win, rather than see that."
RACE AT A GLANCE
Yesterday: Prologue, 4.5-mile time trial, Saint-Brieuc.
Top finishers: 1. Jacky Durand, France, Castorama, 9 minutes; 2. Thierry Laurent, France, Castorama, 2 seconds behind; 3. Francis Moreau, France, Gan, 3; 4. Laurent Brochard, France, Festina, 4; 5. Arsenio Gonzales, Spain, Mapei-GB, 4.
6. Rolf Aldag, Germany, Telekom-ZG-Selle, 5; 7. Frankie Andreu, Dearborn, Mich., Motorola, 5; 8. Gabriele Colombo, Italy,
Gewiss-Balan, 8; 9. Stephen Swart, New Zealand, Motorola, 8; 10. Bruno Thibout, France, Castorama, 9.
11. Yvon Ldanois, France, Gan, 13; 12. Vicente Aparicio, Spain, Banesto, 13; 13. Mariano Rojas, Spain, Once, 15; 14. Pacal Lance, France, Gan, 16; 15. Neil Stephens, Australia, Once, 16.
Other North Americans: 45. Lance Armstrong, Austin, Texas, Motorola, 33; 80. Steve Bauer, Canada, Motorola, 43.
Today's stage: Dinan to Lannion, 145 miles.