"If you entertain the unworthy suspicion that journalists invent their own stories, you will be pleased to know that this is literally true in the case of the Tour de France." So a Welsh journalist once wrote of the world's premier bike race, which was founded early in this century by French newspaper editors to give them something with which to fill their pages. The winner of the race, alas, defies invention, and thus the 980 members of the press following this year's edition had to content themselves with writing, again and again over three weeks, about Miguel Indurain, the phlegmatic Spaniard who easily won his third straight Tour.
Quiet, prudent and so patient that he spent seven years as a pro before winning a marquee stage race, the 29-year-old Indurain makes for dull copy. By his standards, he endured a cataclysmic off-season: He married his longtime sweetheart, Marisa, and moved out of his parents' farmhouse near Pamplona into a new house with her—a whole mile away. He is polite, very polite. "He doesn't insist on winning every stage," says Andy Hampsten, the American who finished eighth overall. "That has the pack saying to itself, 'If I'm nice to Miguel, maybe he'll let me win a stage,' which is about all most people can ever hope for." Forgive Indurain for his muted panache. Such workaday attributes as blindered concentration and a love of routine make for the best stage racers, and now that the Pamplona Bull has delivered his very own threepeat, he must be considered among the best cyclists ever. (Only France's Jacques Anquetil, who dominated the race from 1961 to '64, and Belgium's Eddy Merckx who won it from 1969 to '72, have won more Tours in a row.) Every time one of the contenders made a move, Indurain turned him away. Consider the frustration of Tony Rominger, the Swiss who finished second. He won both Alpine stages, yet he couldn't point to a single second gained on Indurain, who shadowed him across the line each time. Indurain's closest brush with difficulty came on the way into Montpellier when an unleashed dog nearly upended him.
For three Tours now Indurain has never turned in a substandard time trial. Nor has he had one of those feckless days in the mountains that most mortal riders endure and the French call un jour sans. "He's a pure product of nature, as much as the rain falls and the sun shines in the sky," his team director, Josè-Miguel Echavarri, told the French magazine Vèlo. So it seems: Your heart (if you're in shape) is likely to beat 65 times a minute at rest; Indurain's ticks 28 times a minute and pumps twice as much blood in that minute as yours does. Couple his powerful heart with his outsized lungs—they're so huge that if you look carefully at his lower back as he pedals a bike, you can make out their gentle heaving—and the result is a motor that's simply bigger than anyone else's.
When word reached the Tour that a pair of British amateurs, Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman, had, within a week of each other, broken and rebroken the world hour record, the press stampeded to Indurain, whose camp had talked for some time about making an assault on the mark. Boardman covered 52.270 kilometers in an hour on a velodrome in Bordeaux last Friday. Indurain is coy about his intentions but suggests that he will go for the hour record sometime next season. "To everything," he says, "there is a season." Since 1991, at the Tour de France, it has been Indurain's turn, turn, turn.