Miguel Indurain’s Grand Tour-winning method was a more generous, less explosive version of the template Lance Armstrong used for his seven Tour de France wins.
Both used the long time trials to kill off the opposition, then rode at the front in the mountain stages. But while Armstrong had a big appetite for stage victories, Indurain was happy to spread the glory around, allowing his rivals to win mountain stages, safe in the knowledge that they would rarely gain any time on him. Indurain twice won two Grand Tours in a season — the Giro-Tour double of 1992 and 1993.
The Spaniard’s career-defining moment came during the 1992 Tour de France, in the Luxembourg time trial. He’d already won the previous year’s Tour fairly comfortably, as well as the recent Giro. But Luxembourg changed everything.
In one outrageous performance over 65 kilometres, Indurain not only won the ’92 Tour, he won the ’93, ’94 and ’95 editions as well. His rivals spent ensuing Tours, waiting for him to kill them in the long time trial, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to drop him in the mountains.
But Indurain had already tried out this method in the Giro. In 1992, the race organisers did him a huge favour by putting a 66km time trial on the last day. He was already in the pink jersey when he won the stage three time trial. Then, the trio of Italians behind him in the general classification — Claudio Chiappucci, Franco Chioccioli and Marco Giovannetti — could do nothing against the Spaniard in the mountains. Indurain more than doubled his lead in the final time trial.
Tale of two Tours
His 1993 success was more complicated, in the Giro at least. Indurain was put under pressure by Latvian rider Piotr Ugroumov in the mountains. While the Spaniard’s combined gains on Ugroumov in the time trials added up to two minutes, he was actually dropped on the penultimate stage to Oropa. The final margin of victory was only 58 seconds. But in the Tour it was business as usual. One massive Indurain time trial victory early in the race was followed by a gentleman’s agreement with main rival Tony Rominger that the Spaniard would win the Tour, while the Swiss was given the climbers’ jersey, two mountain wins, and even a bonus victory in the final time trial, by 42 seconds over Indurain, suffering from toothache.
Indurain came close to a third Giro-Tour double in 1994, but was ambushed by flash-in-the-pan Russian rider Evgeni Berzin in the Giro. But he remains the only rider to win two consecutive Tour-Giro doubles. Even Merckx couldn’t do that.
GRAND TOUR CLINCHERS – 4 KEY STAGES
1) 1992 Giro d’Italia stage 9, Latina-Terminillo
Miguel Indurain strikes a killer psychological blow on his rivals. He’s already won the early time trial, and has been wearing pink for a week. In this first summit finish of the race, his rivals hope to attack him, but he finishes in the first group, dropping the main contenders and putting 30 seconds into eventual runner-up Claudio Chiappucci.
2) 1992 Tour de France stage 9, Luxembourg TT
One of the most outrageously dominant time trial wins of all time. Indurain crushes everybody in 65 kilometres around Luxembourg. The second-placed rider is three minutes behind. Crucially, Chiappucci, who loses the Tour by 4-35 overall, loses 5-26 here.
3) 1993 Giro d’Italia stage 20, Torino-Oropa
Indurain starts the day 1-34 clear of Piotr Ugroumov, but is put on the rack by his rivals who put in a last effort to unseat him from the lead. Ugroumov drops Indurain, who is also rattled by attacks from Stephen Roche and Claudio Chiappucci. However, the Spaniard rides defensively to limit his losses, and does enough to win the Giro, although by less than a minute.
4) 1993 Tour de France stage 10, Villard de Lans-Serre Chevalier
Indurain’s Tour-winning template is honed to perfection on this day. He’s already thrashed everyone in the first long time trial. In the first mountain stage of the race, he is undroppable, coming third in Serre Chevalier.
From the archives: Stage 11: Serre Chevalier-Isola 2000. Tony Rominger outsprinted Miguel Indurain at Isola 2000 after the 180-kilometre stage had taken the field over the highest pass in Europe, the Col de la Bonette Restefond.
The Bonette saw Indurain and Rominger in another clearing-out session as they chased steadily behind Robert Millar, who led all the way to the summit, with its terrifying drop to the right and spine-chilling descent.
At the summit, Millar was 1-15 ahead of an eight-man group, with Indurain, Mejia, Rominger and Chiappucci two minutes further back. Screaming down the narrow strip of tarmac through a deserted village with a perilous drop to his right, the little Scot gained time and was 1-45 to the good as the yellow jersey group soft-pedalled.
Bjarne Riis was the first to attack on the final climb up a steep-sided valley with short hairpins and long drags, and his effort split the group. Rominger led the group up to Riis, then Chiappucci went, catching Millar. But Rominger drove past the Italian, with Millar left behind. Indurain simply sat there, looking as if he was on a club run through the 31 bends, each named after a previous Tour winner. As they went into the rock fall shelters with 10 kilometres to go, Riis went again, while behind, Millar found his second wind and rejoined.
Indurain began pounding out the rhythm at the front as they went through the bend named after Joop Zoetemelk with five kilometres to go. Then Millar made one last attack. His big ring effort gained him 100 metres, but Big Mig wasn’t going to let mere mortals get away and more inexorable pressure from the yellow jersey saw Millar caught with two kilometres to go.
Under the kilometre kite it was Jaskula’s turn, with Rominger countering and Indurain cruising up. On the last steep ramp it was down to the Swiss and the Spaniard, who actually looked uncomfortable on the bike for once.
Rominger led out the final sprint, with Indurain coming back to him, then sitting up — either through fatigue or charity — to allow the Swiss his second stage win in two days.