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Picture reproduced by kind permission of Jeremy Mallard, from his limited-edition print ‘Riding into History’.

In his gentle way Miguel always rejects anything that could be seen as presumption on his part. One day I put it to him: ‘You know the descent from the Tourmalet as well as anyone does.’ I was convinced that he did – both via La Mongie and the road to Bareges, and via Luz-Saint Saveur, which is perhaps the rockier, wilder and more inhumane side. That was where he hunted down Rominger in 1993. But Miguel denied this at first. Later he accepted that, yes, it was a dangerous descent that he did know well, and one on which he was forced to brake on ‘three or four bends’. So, not on the others, then? ‘You’re always gambling when you’re descending!’ he told me, ‘and it’s better not to see what’s on either side, those sheer drops and the like, because otherwise you’d probably stop the bike there and then.’ That was a modest way of expressing his Theory of the Descent, on the greatest of the Pyrenean giants. Touch the brakes on four bends. Don’t look. It sounded almost like an excuse for having clinched the ‘91 Tour in such rampant style, when he launched himself down towards La Mongie, or for having caught Rominger on the road to Barèges in the ’93 Tour. And this, coming from the rider who is remembered for the most spectacular descents (perhaps the most effective, rather than necessarily the fastest descents) in the history of cycling. The decade up to the summer of 1991 had seen a dramatic shift in Spanish cycling. At the outset there hadn’t been a single rider capable of making a showing in the big foreign competitions; by the end of the decade the Reynolds team had burst on to the scene,

shaken up the peloton and raised everybody’s expectations. That was the heyday of Pedro Delgado and Arroyo, and the performances of Marino Lejarreta and Chozas in the Giro. Riders like Pello Ruiz Cabestany and Julián Gorospe even won stages in the Tour de France. Those were ‘magical moments’ in the lives of thousands of Spaniards. It was something akin to a mass phenomenon – whole families glued to the TV waiting for French television’s broadcast to Spain. The hysteria, which was heightened in no short measure by the media and the charisma of the leading figure, Pedro Delgado, had three phases. The first was the 1987 Tour, which Pedro almost won, but then lost by a few seconds in the individual time-trial at Dijon. Second, there was the ’88 Tour which he did win, and this was even more highly valued because, halfway through, the issue of the alleged doping scandal reared its ugly head. With Delgado already in yellow, one of the Tour organisers’ vehicles drew up alongside the Reynolds car to ‘suggest’ to the team bosses that Pedro should feign a fall and that they should claim he was injured, or ill. They wanted him to retire with his ‘dignity’ intact. Not on your life, not with the pain it takes to win a Tour! It was all or nothing, and it was all. The third phase was the following Tour, in ’89, which went from the ridiculous to the sublime: it began as a disaster and ended as one of the epics. It was the Tour when Delgado took a wrong turning going to the start in Luxembourg and was last on overall classification at the end of the first stage; and on the Champs Elysées he was on the podium in third place. The French Press didn’t give due credit at the time for the historic way Delgado had battled up the classification because, naturally, they were more focused on the fierce, private duel between Fignon (a Frenchman who was never loved by the French) and Lemond, an American who seemed to be half-French and about whom France was divided. On the one hand Lemond had demonstrated his undeniable qualities as a champion, since he was the man who had ’granted’ the almighty Bernard Hinault one final Tour; on the other hand he was to be his executioner shortly afterwards, depriving him of his sixth Tour. So for Hinault, too, the limit of five Tours seemed to be sacred. Exceeding it was like entering an unknown world: it wasn’t simply a question of fame, but of whether it was really proper to win more Tours than Eddy Merckx. And yet Hinault gave his all to win a sixth Tour, launching attacks in the face of team orders, which made manager Paul Koech1i increasingly neurotic with each passing day. Hinault was failing when least expected and winning where it


didn’t seem possible. The climb at Alpe d’Huez in tandem with his junior partner, Greg Lemond, his team-mate in La Vie Claire and the race leader, was memorable. Their arrival together at the finish, shaking each other’s hands (Hinault won, of course) was merely a deceitful lid on the tensions that were boiling over within the team, where some riders supported Lemond and others Hinault. That, too, has passed into history. It was in ’86, and soon afterwards Perico Delgado’s time would come. Then, in 1990, the Tour ran an equally strange course for Banesto: again it was a matter of the team hierarchy. Some said: ‘Of course it should be Perico; he’s still got what it takes to make an impression in such a demanding event as the Tour.’ At that time Delgado was one of the most experienced riders in the French Tour. But other voices spoke of the need for the leadership to pass to Induráin, even though he, himself, frowned whenever the issue was raised. A third approach, which, as things turned out, was the most practical and sensible, proposed that the race itself should decide. It should be emphasised how well the Banesto management dealt with this delicate issue. Nevertheless, while letting the race decide was all well and good, it should still be remembered that in the previous Tour of ’89 Delgado, despite his spectacular and commendable recovery – ‘a real bullfighters performance’, as the French said – had not gained a single stage victory. Miguel, on the other hand, had won in one of the blue ribbon stages of the race, at Cauterets, even though the public impact of that feat was partially eclipsed by Perico’s incessant and astonishing recovery – the seconds and minutes he was clawing back, day in day out, like some workaholic ant. In the end it was the 1990 Tour that settled matters once and for all. Miguel was always ahead. He was constantly at the front on the big climbs in the Alps and in the Pyrenees, and always having to wait for Delgado to catch up. That is, until that one unforgettable day when Miguel had had enough, and shot off like an arrow on LuzArdiden, and on to victory. In the time-trials as well, his progress was spectacular: he was now on a par with the very best. It could be said that, given this overall picture, the prospects for the ’91 Tour should have been crystal clear. But they weren’t. There were still people who continued to believe that Perico was capable of sweeping all before him once more, as he had in ’88, and, secondly, and even more surprising, there were those who maintained that Induráin definitely couldn’t ‘climb’. His two Paris–Nice wins, clinched on Mont-Faron and the Col d’Eze, counted for nothing, apparently; nor did his San


Sebastian classic sealed on Jaizkibel. Cauterets and Luz-Ardiden, they, too, counted for nought. Generally speaking, people in Spain continued to place their faith in Delgado’s lightning ability to break, We had still not grasped that the Tour, to quote the author Lapeyrére in a thought-provoking book entitled Comme faire le Tour, far from being a simple test of speed, is, in fact, a test of character and style. And that’s where they would be up against Miguel. Delgado was a great watcher, but Miguel was even greater. His vision on the road might be described as ‘multiple’. He had that exceptional quality which insects possess to ‘see’ images fragmented through a series of compound eyes. Each rival, each movement, everything was computed and registered. And all this information would end up being used at the least expected moment. In 1991 we were about to enter the Kingdom of the Sun, and there was certainly a lot of sun in those Tours, that’s for sure, even though there were bad days in all of them. We were getting to the most fantastic and unforgettable part of the Symphony which Induráin was offering us, up now on his conductor’s dais. Earlier I said that Hinault gave his all to achieve a sixth Tour win, but failed. So did Merckx, who was broken as he attacked like a wounded animal on Pra-Loup and the Col d’ Alios, and was finally superceded by someone younger, a new rider named Bernard Thevenet, who managed to rid himself of the ‘Merckx complex’ that was ruling the peloton at that time. Eddy Merckx’s last victory was in ’74, but his increasingly laborious attempts continued right up to ’77. It was a similar story with Jacques Anquetil, whose last Tour triumph was in ’64, but who was still there in ’66 and even the following year was still the leader of the BIC team, which contained a very young Jean-Marie Leblanc (later to become the Tour boss) and José Miguel Echávarri. Hinault, though, was unconcerned about revealing his deficiencies on the road. He had the good fortune still to have the class to register the odd win and, like Merckx, he was able to do this at the age of 32. He retired rather discreetly. Induráin was to be the most decisive of all in that respect. After his incredible five-year run, and despite it being commonly accepted that physically he was still fit enough to attempt a sixth Tour, he said ‘adiós’. A gentleman until the very end. This served merely to add to his legend. …