International Cycling Heroes - Miguel Indurain
I'm not sure how much you'll want to know about my adolescent family holidays to France but please bear with me, in the context of this article at least, they're important. But it happened, for reasons that still remain unexplained to me, that every summer during without fail, the four of us would troop to a remote part of France to a chateau (of sorts) and argue continuously for a fortnight and resolve never to do it again. Before doing it again the next year.
Ah, yes, I was going to explain why that was important. Well, with a certain inevitability, these holidays would coincide with the Tour de France and with my French studies not equipping me with the skills to understand French television adequately; my attention was captivated by the coverage of the race that seemed to be omnipresent. Something else was omnipresent as well, and that was the consistent and repeated use of one name in amongst the indecipherable commentary: Indurain.
This was, of course, because these holidays occurred between 1991 and 1995, a period during which Spaniard Miguel Indurain won the Tour de France on five consecutive occasions, the first man to achieve this quite stunning feat. It is worth noting that, in 1992 and 1993, he doubled up by winning Giro d'Italia as well, just for good measure. We never holidayed in Italy though.
One year, we discovered that we were holidaying close to the route of Le Tour, and I cajoled my father into driving across rural France and setting up camp by the roadside where, some hours later, the peloton careered past. The moment passed in a heartbeat, and I had no idea where Indurain was within the blur of riders, but I returned home content that I had seen the great man in the flesh.
Born in July 1964, Indurain obtained the nickname Miguelón, or "Big Mig", depending on your dialect, due to his imposing physique; he stood 6ft 2in weighed in at 176 lbs. He turned professional in 1985 and entered the Tour de France for the first time the same year. Indurain steadily improved his performance in the event until peaking so dramatically in 1991, although he might have won in 1990 when he played a supporting role for his team captain Pedro Delgado. He was widely expected to be a leading contender to retain his crown in 1996, but after what appeared to be a laboured performance, he finished 11th and never competed in le Tour agaI'm not sure how much you'll want to know about my adolescent family holidays to France but please bear with me, in the context of this article at least, they're important. But it happened, for reasons that still remain unexplained to me, that every summer during without fail, the four of us would troop to a remote part of France to a chateau (of sorts) and argue continuously for a fortnight and resolve never to do it again. Before doing it again the next year.
Indurain was a brute in the time trails, making title-winning gains time after time, and in particular I love the story from the 1992 Tour, where he smashed a 65km time trial after having a 55-tooth chain ring fitted, beating the second placed rider by three minutes, and catching the rider who started 6 minutes ahead of him as he approached the line. I always recognised Indurain, not only because of the colour of his jersey but because he always seemed to be smiling broadly when I could only imagine his whole body must feel like it was on fire as he demolished the competition.
Perhaps there was an explanation for that; Indurain's physiology was astonishing; reportedly his blood circulation had the ability to circulate 7 litres of oxygen around his body per minute compared to 5-6 litres for his fellow riders and his cardiac output is 50 litres a minute; with a fit amateur cyclist's usually about 25 litres a minute. On the bike, he seemed rarely to struggle or lose his composure, and his quiet nature compelled some to compare him to a robot. Maybe he wasn't finding it all that difficult after all. “I inherited that calm from my father, who was a farmer. You sow, you wait for good or bad weather, you harvest, but working is something you always need to do,” he said. To be honest, if I had a composition like Miguel's, I'd be rather calm as well.
Depending on who you read, Indurain was many things on the Tour stages that were not time trials: defensive, selfish, grateful, clever, gentle. Only two of his twelve individual stage wins came away from the trials, mountain stages in 1989 and 1990, years that he didn’t win the race. Maybe it’s a simplistic view, but when a man has the beating of the field in five consecutive tours, he has to be doing something right, and there’s a litany of evidence that Indurain was a quiet man with a generous nature and great respect for his teammates, and a man held in huge esteem by his fellow riders, if not the press. Indurain’s strategy was akin to that of Jacques Anquetil; win the time trials and hold on in the mountains. That was not Indurain’s comparison, however; “Big Mig” was also keen to avoid comparison to great cyclists of the past and reportedly said that he had "never felt superior to anyone."
A national icon in Spain, in retirement Miguel lives with his wife Marisa in his native Basque country, serving on UCI’s Professional Cycling Council and the Spanish Olympic Committee. He is also Honorary President of his own Foundation, cunningly named the “Miguel Indurain Foundation”, which he created to assist young sportsmen and women who wish to try and emulate his considerable achievements.
He was also voted the Spanish Sports Personality of the Twentieth Century, a considerable achievement in a country so obsessed by football, and in doing so was declared to be “undoubtedly a likeable, generous sportsman who always worked to the utmost of his ability in order to achieve his ambitions and who maintained his integrity in a sport where that has not always been the case... a good role model for any young sporting aspirant.” My teenage self and I would find it hard to disagree.
“To be free and to live a free life - that is the most beautiful thing there is.”
Cycling Hall of Fame
Thumbnail photo credit: www.bikerconnection.de and www.fyxomatosis.com.