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Tour de France Sunday, 2 August, 1998, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Pirate takes yellow treasure
Pantani with Arc
Yellow blur-sey: A Pirate in Paris complete with dyed beard
Italy's Marco Pantani confirmed his Tour win as the rain stopped to allow a final sprint finish on a wet day in Paris.

Belgian Tom Steels won the stage - his fourth of the race - as what was left of this year's remarkable race finished on the Champs Elysees.

At one stage it looked like the 10-lap race around the city would be cut short - not by police raids or riders' strikes - but by dangerous rain on the French capital's cobbles.

Pantani large head
Ahead of the field: One fan's big tribute to Pantani
However, almost at the same time as the field turned onto the broad tree-lined boulevard, the sun came out and shone on the riders.

Until then Pantani in his yellow jersey had enjoyed a trouble-free, if damp, ride from the town of Melun into the capital, although the Italian - nicknamed the Pirate - did puncture on the Champs Elysees.

The rain failed to wash out the yellow hair dye the bald rider had used on his goatee beard, and which his Mercatone Uno teammates had put on their full heads of hair.

It followed the Italian teams' mass shaving of their heads to celebrate Pantani's victory on the recent Giro d'Italia which also ended in a downpour in Milan earlier in the summer.

Pantani is the first Italian to win the Tour de France since 1965.

Tyre trouble

The Pirate was not the only rider to suffer a puncture on the final stage as grit stuck to the narrow wet tyres of many bikes, but all of those to suffer problems got back to the bunch to finish the race.

Tour memory: When Ullrich cracked in the mountains
As usual in the Tour finale a break did get away off the front with former France champion Stephane Heulot and Olympic gold medallist Viatcheslav Ekimov trying their luck.

But their advantage was never more than 20 seconds at most, and the sprinters teams of Mapei and Telekom eventually dragged the main field back to the front of the race to prepare for the traditional finale.

It is the finish all the sprinters want to win, and Gan's Magnus Backstedt was on the front as the field came around the final corner off the Place de la Concorde.

The Swede was trying to set victory up for Australian Stuart O'Grady, but Steels and his Mapei lead out man Stefano Zanini were also there and proved strongest on the line.

For Steels this Tour has been a personal victory with four stage wins in three countries - France, Ireland and Switzerland - after he was disqualified from last year's race without a single win for throwing a drinks bottle at a rival.

Other winners ride in

Steels wins
Steels on the Champs Elysees as Zabel looks on
The Belgian champion did not take the sprinters' green jersey for the most consistent finisher.

That honour went again to Erik Zabel despite the German failing to win a single stage.

In Paris he was fifth as he set a new record for winning three green jerseys in successive years.

He was joined on the podium by his son - complete in points jersey and green training shoes as the colour co-ordination continued.

The other major winner, King of the Mountains Christophe Rinero also came home safely to take his prize, which followed the police's arrest of previous leader Rodolfo Massi.

Lasting memory

As the various winners smiled on the podium, the sport of cycling faces an uncertain future.

Massi arrest
Massi's arrest: This tour will be remembered for drugs
Massi's arrest and subsequent placing under investigation by the French police is perhaps the most serious of a catalogue of drugs-related problems which dogged this race from the start in Dublin.

Last year's King of the Mountains Richard Virenque was not here after his Festina team's disqualification.

Nor were TVM, who went home to the Netherlands from Switzerland after their riders alleged unfair treatment at the hands of the French police.

And the scandal looks set to have repercussions way beyond these two teams, as the whole sport comes under examination.

It remains to be seen what shape the sport will be in 11 months from now when the riders assemble for the last Tour of this century.

Final results

1 M Pantani (Mercatone Uno) in 92h 49m 46secs
2 J Ullrich (Telekom) 03mins 21secs
3 B Julich (Cofidis) 4:08
4 C Rinero (Cofidis) 9:16
5 M Boogerd (Rabobank) 11:26
6 J-C Robin (US Postal) 14:57
7 R Meier (Cofidis) 15:13
8 D Nardello (Mapei) 16:07
9 G Di Grande (Mapei) 17:35
10 A Merckx (Polti) 17:39

Points Jersey: E Zabel (Telekom)

King of the Mountains: C Rinero (Cofidis)

Best Young Rider: J Ullrich (Telekom)

Best Team: Cofidis

Most Combative Rider: J Durand (Casino)

BBC News
The BBC's Simon Brotherton reports from the race
See also:

30 Jul 98 | Tour de France
01 Aug 98 | Tour de France
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