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1998 Tour de France

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Blijlevens takes fourth stage

O'Grady of Australia gains overall lead

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Posted: Wednesday July 15, 1998 06:04 PM

  Jeroen Blijlevens celebrates taking the fourth stage (AP)

CHOLET, France (AP) -- Jeroen Blijlevens of the Netherlands took the fourth stage sprint finish but intermediate sprints allowed Stuart O'Grady of Australia to gain the overall lead in the Tour de France Wednesday.

O'Grady won a pair of intermediate sprints worth 12 bonus seconds each during the day to gain the yellow jersey, emblematic of first overall. He became the second Australian to lead the cycling race.

Phil Anderson had the yellow jersey at various times in four different Tours in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985.

It came down to another sprint finish in the fourth stage from Plouay to Cholet, 252 kilometers (127 miles), the longest stage of this year's Tour.

It took more than 5 hours and 45 minutes of riding on the day and a fall in the middle of the pack around a tight left-hand corner less that 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the finish cut the pack in two, eliminating a few of the top sprinters.

Blijlevens won the sprint for his fourth individual stage victory. Second was Italian Nicola Minali with Czech Jan Svorada third.

Bo Hamburger had the yellow jersey entering the day, just two seconds ahead of George Hincapie, the American cycling champion from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Yet O'Grady, with the help of the bonus seconds, became the fourth rider to hold the yellow jersey in the five days of racing.

O'Grady's lead was especially sweet for the GAN team after Chris Boardman, who won the prologue and held the yellow jersey for a day, crashed out on Monday. He is recovering from a concussion and cuts and bruises.

Thursday' fifth stage is from from Cholet to Chateauroux, 228 kilometers (142 miles), moving slightly eastward towards the center of the France.

The Tour's drug controversy continued with Festina's main sponsors, the watch company of Festina, theatening to break its contract with the team if there is any evidence of drug use among the riders.

Last week a Belgian member of Festina's team was arrested after police found a large quantity of performance enhancing drugs in the Festina car he was driving.

According to judicial sources, after first admitting the drugs were for his personal use, the man charged said that he was under orders.

Late Tuesday, the Festina team issued a statement saying they were astonished at recent press stories saying the man charged has changed his version of things.

Festina officials denied those accusations and said that they had hired two lawyers to protect their image and rides.  

Related information
Hamburger takes overall lead after three stages
Boardman released from hospital
Stage Four Prologue
Tour de France Overall Standings
Tour de France Stage 4 Results
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