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  Monday, 29 July, 2002, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Jaja bids au revoir
Laurent Jalabert in action on the Champs Elysee
The sprinter who became a climber

It used to be said that Laurent Jalabert was cursed at the Tour de France.

But four podium appearances in Paris, a best finish of fourth and four stage victories is the sort of record that most riders would envy.

Jalabert's problem was the French public's longing for a homegrown Tour winner.

  Tour de France
Green jersey winner, 1992/5
Mountain jersey winner, 2001/2
Four stage wins: 1992/5/2001 (twice)
Best finish: 4th in 1995
Bernard Hinault in 1985 was the last, a win which was the home nation's ninth in 11 years.

Jalabert, world number one rider for most of the 1990s, was expected by casual fans to end the years of hurt.

But, despite a win in the similarly gruelling Tour of Spain, he could never quite compete over three weeks at the highest level.

The French may have cheered his every move in the past two Tours, as he won the King of the Mountains prize twice.

But Jaja's loyalty to the Spanish team ONCE did not always endear him to his home public.

He was often more concerned with year-round success than his national Tour, and even went a year without racing at home in 1999.

Constant success in the Tour of Spain was a stark contrast to the effort Jaja appeared to save for Le Tour.

  Tour of Spain record
Three race wins
18 stage wins
Thee points jerseys

But all of this has been forgiven during his renaissance at the Danish CSC-Tiscali team.

Jalabert first burst onto the scene in 1989, his early successes including leadership in the Kellogg's Tour of Britain.

By 1992, he was ready for a first Tour de France, winning the green points jersey and one stage into Brussels.

He failed to finish the next two races, leading to stories of his Tour jinx.

The most spectacular bad luck came in 1994, when a policeman tried to take a picture in the finishing straight of a stage.

Smashed teeth

Jalabert collided with the gendarme with such force that he lost several teeth and could only be fed by intravenous drip for a week.

He never tackled the all-out madness of Tour bunch sprints with the same enthusiasm.

But in 1995 he returned triumphantly, winning the green jersey again and another stage, on Bastille Day of all days.

But even fourth place that year did not lead Jalabert towards an expected challenge for the Tour.

He abandoned in 1996, finished a lowly 43rd in 1997, and then led a Spanish boycott of the infamous drug-tainted 1998 race.

After his 1999 absence he returned to lead the race for a day in 2000, but lost the yellow jersey after being attacked while answering a call of nature.

Transformation complete

He needed a change. And after splitting from long-term employers ONCE, he regained the affection of the French public in 2001.

A second Bastille Day win was his second of the Tour while a long lone attack in the Pyrenees secured the King of the Mountains prize and the Combativity award.

All this - except the stage wins - was repeated this year on what was effectively a lap of honour.

Now Jalabert will retire, happy in the knowledge that the French public have finally accepted his immense talent.

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