|Indurain in 1996|
In 1984, Indurain was selected for the Olympic team - he didn't win a medal, but he impressed managers at the Reynolds trade team who offered him his first professional contract shortly after the Games. The next year, he entered the Vuelta a Espana and was second in the prologue, then led the race for a short time after Stage 1 before coming 84th overall; later in the year he rode for the first time in the Tour de France but abandoned in the fourth stage. He would abandon again, this time in Stage 8, in 1986. In 1987 he finished for the first time, coming 97th, then improved to 47th in 1988; good results (just finishing a Tour is a good result) but nothing spectacular. Then he came 17th in 1989, making it clear that he was a serious contender, and if anyone doubted it he proved them wrong by coming tenth in 1990.
|Indurain in yellow, 1993|
Nowadays, fans think of doping whenever they hear the name Conconi - with good reason: whilst employed to develop new anti-doping tests, he was also investigating new drugs that the tests couldn't detect and introducing them the sport, his most lasting legacy being EPO. However, this tends to obscure the fact that he is also a very skillful sports doctor and scientist, a man able to transform one of his "projects" from likely one-off Tour winner into one of cycling's all-time greatest athletes. Indurain became one of those projects and, under the doctor' direction, adopted a policy last used by Lucien Petit-Breton to become the first man to win two Tours back in 1908 - centreing his season entirely around the Tour with all other races used merely for training purposes. He was good enough that winning a prestigious bonus here and there, such as the Giro d'Italia in 1992 and 1993, but he made no secret of the fact that the Tour was his raison d'être and this to accusations that he was a boring rider and that he made the Tour boring - he must have been especially stung when his hero Bernard Hinault said "Indurain is the best rider of his generation but he has won this Tour quietly, without great opposition."
|Indurain on his way home, with trophy|
In 1995 he equaled the record set by Anquetil, Merckx and his hero Hinault with a fifth Tour, but went one better by taking his five consecutively - the fifth was a great victory, just like every Tour win that isn't won by a doper, but cycling fans said it may as well have been a demonstration race with the finishing order decided before the riders even began. He couldn't resist an attempt at a record-breaking sixth victory, but even in the prologue it became obvious he'd made the same mistake as Merckx and Hinault: he'd failed to quit while he was ahead and, after failing to win time in the first week due to bronchitis, gradually slipped away down the rankings for the rest of the race and ending in 11th place. Many fans decided it must be impossible to win more than five Tours then, an opinion they held until another rider adopted the Tour-centric approach and won seven in a row: we may soon find out finally if Lance Armstrong did so by his own merit or with a helping hand from drugs.
For five years, Indurain dominated the Tour in a way that nobody else ever had; but the Tour dominated him, too, and like a prisoner released after ten years in prison he had become institutionalised. He had spent so much time concentrating solely on his racing that the world moved without him: when he went to buy a bike shortly after retiring, a rather surprised shop assistant began explaining the different gear cassettes, chain rings, cranks and so on, assuming that Big Mig would probably know exactly what he wanted - but it didn't take long before he realised the rider hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about. He was also shocked at how much modern bikes cost when compared to the far more basic machines on offer when he'd last had to actually go out and buy one and couldn't believe that a top-level Cannondale mountain bike could cost as much as the equivalent of 3,300 euros.
Born in Varese on this day in 1973, Stefano Garzelli found his first professional contract with the Mercatone Uno team, which took him on as a domestique for Marco Pantani. However, as a good all-rounder he was always going to win races for himself; in his second year with the team he won two stages and the overall Points competition, Combination category and General Classification at the Tour de Suisse.
When it came to the final time trial, Garzelli had some luck - race leader Francesco Casagrande started the stage with sciatic nerve problems and was unable to perform at anything like his best level, leaving Garzealli to win with a margin sufficiently large to place him into the overall lead, a victory he dedicated to Pantani. From that point on he was unchallenged, winning the General Classification.
Other cyclists born on this day: José Balaustre (Venezuela, 1965); Leo Sterckx (Belgium, 1936); Maurizio Colombo (Italy, 1963); Sam Webster (New Zealand, 1991); Alberto Velázquez (Uruguay, 1934); David Sharp (USA, 1941); Leo Peelen (Netherlands, 1968); Ernest Kockler (USA, 1892, died 1970); José Torres (Chile, 1889); Murray Steele (New Zealand, 1961); Alan Marangoni (Italy, 1984); Derek Bouchard-Hall (USA, 1970).