Cycling: Spain's reign under threat: Robin Nicholl says a Swiss could make Miguel Indurain suffer against the clock

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The Independent Online
AFTER the yawning predictability of the past three years there could be a new dawn in the Tour de France. Before the sun goes down on the Champs- Elysees four weeks from today Tony Rominger may have stopped Miguel Indurain's cycle of success. If he does not, then as sure as bulls run the streets of his home city of Pamplona, the Spanish racer will have achieved his fourth Tour win in a row. Eddy Merckx, the Belgian who won the race five times, once predicted that Indurain could be good for six Tour triumphs. Rominger intends to make sure that this 3,970km race, which starts in Lille on Saturday, takes in a slice of England and conquers the Pyrenees and the Alps, is not one of them.

The Swiss rider emerged as the main threat to Indurain in last year's Tour when he beat the Spaniard at his own game in a crucial time-trial, and pulses quickened at the thought that the gentle giant from Navarro was not quite so invincible. Gianni Bugno, Claudio Chiappucci and Greg LeMond, who between them hold a cluster of world and tour crowns, had all previously failed to cut him down to size.

Rominger, who completed a hat-trick of wins in the Tour of Spain in May, was encouraged by the Tour bosses announcing a time-trial up the 1,323-metre mountain at Morzine just two days before the finish of the race. There will be no 'shutting up shop' with a week for Indurain as he has been able to in the past.

The Monaco-based rider is not Indurain's only threat. Two weeks ago, the Russian Evgeny Berzin stopped his drive for a third Tour of Italy win in a row, and beat him twice in important time-trials. If a second-year professional, still green at the edges, could do this, imagine what the seasoned Rominger might manage?

This year's Tour opens with a 7km time-trial, which could mean that Britain's Chris Boardman, 10 months into his professional career having made his mark by taking the world hour record as an amateur, will hold the yellow jersey. Albeit for a short time.

'I have a very good chance of winning that time trial,' the Olympic champion said. Yet earlier this year he had doubts. 'I honestly wondered if I had done the right thing in turning professional. I knew it would be hard and knew the demands but things just were not going well. Then one day I saw a group of sales reps in the hotel lobby and knew then that wasn't for me. I said to myself 'you're a sportsman, so be one'.'

If he wins Boardman will become only the second Briton, after Tommy Simpson 32 years ago, to lead the world's greatest race. He also knows he has the unique chance to wear the yellow jersey on home soil: 'It would be ideal to be leading the Tour when it arrives in Britain - but maybe the Channel tunnel has been finished a year too early for me.'

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