If you should catch any Olympic events on TV featuring athletes from France, you might hear what sounds like John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever in the background. Don't panic. The feed from C-SPAN's presidential campaign coverage hasn't been mistakenly spliced into your Triplecast. Spanish Olympic fans are just taunting the French by borrowing Sousa's march, to which they like to sing the three-syllable surname of the man who beat 197 other riders to win his second straight Tour de France on Sunday.
Miguel Induràin—that's een-doo-RINE, as in shine—is a 28-year-old Basque who spent the early part of his cycling career as a support rider for former Tour winner and fellow Spaniard Pedro Delgado. Suddenly a conquistador, Induràin is uncomfortable venturing off the main road of the clichèd answer. Thus, even though he has lorded over the world's most intensely followed bike race for two years, little is known about him personally, other than that his single extravagance seems to be a Mercedes sedan and that he steers clear of the separatist cause so many Basques hold dear. "I was his roommate for years," says Delgado, who now serves as Induràin's domestique on the Banesto team. "And even I don't know him."
The most salient fact about Induràin may be that he ruthlessly dominates time trials, the stages the French call "races of truth" for the unsparing way they root out pretenders. In a time trial each rider goes off alone, pitting himself against the clock, without benefit of other cyclists in whose slipstream he might catch a draft. Induràin won the opening time trial in his homeland on July 4, an eight-kilometer cruise through San Sebastiàn, but that was a mere warmup for the 23-day Tour. It was in the Luxembourg time trial nine days later that he won the Tour. He out-distanced the field by an astonishing three minutes, and before the finish he actually caught France's Laurent Fignon, a former Tour champion who had set out on the course six minutes earlier.
It's difficult to compare time trials, for each is unique in distance and terrain. But his victory by three minutes over 65 kilometers left jaws slack. "If you look at the other top contenders, they all did their regular time trials," said Andy Hampsten of the U.S., who would later win the prestigious mountain stage to L'Alpe d'Huez and finish the Tour fourth overall. "It's not that they went slow." Said Italy's Gianni Bugno, the current world champion and one of those top contenders, "He must be from another planet."
Induràin sounded like someone messing with the minds of his rivals when he announced, "I could have gone faster." Then he proved he could during the final time trial last Friday, a 64-kilometer ride between Tours and Blois, through the ch‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¢teaux country of the Loire Valley. At the 46-kilometer mark his time was only one second better than Bugno's. But over the final 18 kilometers Induràin stayed tucked in his hunched, time-trialing pose and blew Bugno away, winning by 40 seconds. Since the Tour began in 1903, no rider had covered a time-trial course of more than 50 kilometers as fast as Induràin, who averaged 52.35 kilometers per hour. To put that in perspective, consider that Italy's Francesco Moser went only 51.15 kilometers when he set the hour-distance record, at altitude, in 1984.
Induràin of Spain excels on the plain, but he has developed into a superb climber too, especially for someone who's 6'2". He took over the yellow leader's jersey on July 18, the most daunting day of climbing in the Tour, after a 254.5-km stage from the Alpine town of Saint-Gervais, which sits at the foot of Mont Blanc, over four summits and on to a mountaintop finish at the Italian ski resort of Sestriere. On that day the riders ascended nearly 6,000 meters, which is a longer climb than that from a base camp to the top of Mount Everest. Pedaling with his characteristic imperturbability, his long-billed cap pulled rakishly low over his eyes, Sir Edmund Induràin was content to watch Italy's Claudio Chiappucci win the stage for the home folks. Yet Induràin picked up almost nine minutes on Pascal Lino of France to move into the race's overall lead.
That stage was the one that softened up the U.S.'s Greg LeMond, three-time winner of the Tour and the man for whom Sousa marches are supposed to be played. Two days earlier, during the Tour's only rest day, LeMond was so tired he barely ventured out of bed, and the day after Sestriere he could clear only the first climb before deciding to quit the race for the first time in his career. The next morning the French sports daily L'Equipe called him "Monsieur Tout-LeMond"—Mr. Average Guy.
As during last year's Tour, when an infection contributed to his finishing a disappointing seventh, LeMond's abandonment served to remind people that a sponsor's Z graces his chest, not an S. He is 31 now, older than five-time winners Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault were when they won their final Tours. "My problems had nothing to do with my cardiovascular conditioning and nothing to do with my mind," LeMond said before going home to Belgium. "My body's like a battery that has no more juice. It just needs to be recharged."
When the 3,983-kilometer route of this Tour was announced last fall, it seemed to be less demanding than those of past years. In order to touch down in six other countries—the race visited Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and Italy during this year of European unity—organizers appeared to have skimped on the climbs that have always made the Tour so formidable. Of the 22 stages, only one skirted the Pyrenees, another negotiated the mild undulations of the Massif Central, and two were spent in the heart of the Alps. But as LeMond and the other 67 riders who failed to reach the finish in Paris could tell you, those two days in the Alps were monstrous ones. And throughout the Tour an average pace of 39.5 kilometers per hour was maintained, the fastest in its 79-year history. During that Himalayan day of climbing to Sestriere, Chiappucci finished nearly 50 minutes ahead of the time that race organizers had predicted a rider would have to turn in to win the stage—an estimate that LeMond, in spite of his exhaustion, was still able to meet.
That Induràin chose so grueling a Tour to make the case that he's the finest road cyclist in the world makes that case an even stronger one. And that he chose this year, in which Spain is hosting both the Olympics and a Universal Exposition, to win his second straight Tour makes his victory a feat as much of felicity as fortitude. That tells us one other thing about this mysterious Basque: He has a splendid sense of timing.