Cycling: Tour de France: Indurain eyes place in history: Rominger the threat as Spaniard aims for fourth win in a row

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The Independent Online
MIGUEL INDURAIN used to do it for a sandwich and a drink, but he is looking for a bigger slice of the action when the Tour de France opens here today. Whatever first hooked them into this gruelling game, 180 of the world's best riders are in town, and for Spanish eyes the focus is Indurain's quest to become only the second man to win four consecutive Tours.

The other, Frenchman Jacques Anquetil, was the founder-member of an elite group who each have five Tour wins, but the Belgian, Eddy Merckx (1974), and the Breton, Bernard Hinault (1985), had their spells broken by injury and others. Anquetil first won in 1957 when he was 23 but had to wait four years before his four-in-a-row reign.

Merckx is confident that Indurain has the talent to join the club, and today's snack is just a 7km nibble out of a main meal of 3,927km, with two days in southern England as a light dessert.

When he was 11, Indurain was driven by the insatiable hunger of all children. The boy racers of his home town, Villava, were rewarded with a sandwich and a drink if they completed a race. Nineteen years on, the motivation is there, but the aims and the rewards have changed vastly. Indurain, on pounds 130,000 a month, according to the French magazine Velo, is naturally keen to win. Not so much because of the 2m French francs he will take from the prize pot of 11m, but to reaffirm who is boss.

Since the last Tour, when the Swiss rider, Tony Rominger, gave a strong hint that El Conquistador was beatable, the doubts have grown. They multiplied last month when Evgeny Berzin, a hitherto untested Russian, stopped Indurain's chase for a treble in the Tour of Italy. Berzin was too fast for him in both time trials, a discipline in which Indurain builds the foundations for his Tour successes.

The Russian will not be contesting the Tour but Rominger, with a Tour of Spain hat-trick in May, starts even more confidently than last year. 'I am going for victory. I have more chance than 1993.'

After spending weeks at high altitude in Vail, Colorado, to prepare for the Tour, Rominger tested his form in the Tour of Switzerland with a solo attack of 106km on a mountainous stage. He gained more than four minutes on the field before they hauled him back.

Their time trial reputations face a new threat in today's prologue, the 7km time trial that decides the first wearer of the yellow jersey. Chris Boardman has reached the Tour ahead of schedule. After the stepping stones of Olympic gold and the world's fastest man over an hour, this is the step that can trip. Yet the man from Hoylake shines like no other home prospect since Robert Millar became the first British owner of a Tour jersey in 1984, and is still our best overall performer with his fourth placing that year.

Like two other Tour stalwarts of recent years, the Irishmen Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, Millar will be absent this time. He is first reserve in the Dutch team, TVM, following a knee injury which has crippled his racing programme. Boardman could be Britain's first yellow jersey holder for 32 years. The late Tom Simpson was the first and remains special to cycling hearts.

The Ventoux mountain where he suffered his fatal collapse in 1967 is on this year's route, but England is transfixed by its own part in the Tour. Some 4,000 people and 1,500 vehicles will come through the Channel Tunnel next Tuesday for the first of two English stages the following day. They race from the castle over 206km to Brighton via Sussex's challenge to the Alps, Ditchling Beacon.

This narrow climb will be jammed with fans and one man of Sussex, Sean Yates, will be racing hard to make his last Tour memorable. A stage victory is possible. Yates, who has always grafted that others may triumph, deserves that much. The 182km race through Hampshire on Thursday starts and finishes in Portsmouth. Then the Tour returns to native soil, but with Boardman and Yates flying the flag for Britain.

LEADING CONTENDERS FOR THE 1994 TOUR

Miguel Indurain

Spain

Born: 16 July, 1964, Villava. Married.

1993 world ranking: 1.

Team: Banesto.

Professional since: 1984.

First Tour de France: 1985.

Tour record: 1987 97th. 1988 47th. 1989 17th; one stage win. 1990 10th; one stage win. 1991 1st; two stage wins. 1992 1st; three stage wins. 1993 1st; two stage wins.

Best performances: Tour of Italy, 1st, 1992, 1993. World road race championship, 3rd, 1991. 2nd, 1993. Grand Prix San Sebastian, 1st, 1990.

Prospects: Outstanding chance of winning for a fourth time. Only Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault have gone one better.

Tony Rominger

Switzerland

Born: 27 March, 1961, Velje, Denmark. Married.

1993 world ranking: 2.

Team: Mapei Clas.

Professional since: 1986.

First Tour de France: 1988.

Tour record: 1988 68th. 1990 57th. 1993 2nd; Mountains winner; three stage wins.

Best performances: Tour of Spain, 1st, 1992, 1993 and 1994. Tour of Lombardy, 1st, 1989 and 1992.

Prospects: This is his great chance of stopping Indurain's ride into history because of his strength in riding over the mountains and his stamina and speed in the time trials.

Gianni Bugno

Italy

Born: 14 Feb 1964, Brugg, Switzerland. Married.

1993 world ranking: 10.

Team: Polti.

Professional since: 1985.

First Tour de France: 1988.

Tour record: 1988 62nd; one stage win. 1989 11th. 1990 7th; two stage wins. 1991 2nd; one stage win. 1992, 3rd. 1993, 20th.

Best performances: Tour of Italy, 1st, 1990. World road race championship, 1st, 1991 and 92. Grand Prix San Sebastian, 1st, 1991. Wincanton Classic, 1st, 1990.

Prospects: He has the talent but apparently not the will to attack Indurain.

Claudio Chiappucci

Italy

Born: 28 Feb, 1963, Uboldo. Married.

1993 world ranking: 4.

Team: Carrera.

Professional since: 1985.

First Tour de France: 1989.

Tour record: 1989 81st. 1990 2nd. 1991 3rd; Mountains winner; one stage win. 1992 2nd; Mountains winner; one stage win. 1993 6th; one stage win.

Best performances: Tour of Italy, 2nd, 1991 and 92. Milan-San Remo, lst, 1991. Grand Prix San Sebastian, 1st, 1993.

Prospects: A weakness in time- trialling keeps this adventurous rider from the yellow jersey. But he never gives up as his Tour placings show.

Tour winners since 1974

1974 Eddy Merckx (Bel)

1975 Bernard Thevenet (Fr)

1976 Lucien Van Impe (Bel)

1977 Bernard Thevenet (Fr)

1978 Bernard Hinault (Fr)

1979 Bernard Hinault (Fr)

1980 Joop Zoetemelk (Neth)

1981 Bernard Hinault (Fr)

1982 Bernard Hinault (Fr)

1983 Laurent Fignon (Fr)

1984 Laurent Fignon (Fr)

1985 Bernard Hinault (Fr)

1986 Greg LeMond (US)

1987 Stephen Roche (Irl)

1988 Pedro Delgado (Sp)

1989 Greg LeMond (US)

1990 Greg LeMond (US)

1991 Miguel Indurain (Sp)

1992 Miguel Indurain (Sp)

1993 Miguel Indurain (Sp)

(Photograph omitted)

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