Tour de France: Bradley Wiggins in the tracks of a legend
There are many similarities between leader and his hero, five-time Tour winner, Miguel Indurain
When Bradley Wiggins was 13 years old and living in Kilburn, his dream of winning the Tour de France was inspired by riding his bike on a home trainer in his mother's flat and watching Miguel Indurain ride to victory after victory on the living-room telly.
"Miguel Indurain – Big Mig – was the Tour de France rider I identified with," Wiggins wrote in his autobiography, In Pursuit of Glory. "I loved his power and style and the inscrutable way he had about him. You never really knew whether he was struggling or not and whether he was stressed or not."
Wiggins now has his best chance yet to follow in the wheel tracks of his idol and stand in yellow on the Champs-Elysées, as the Basque legend did for five straight Tours, from 1991 to 1995.
Both Wiggins and Indurain stand well over 6ft, but the parallels do not end there. Just as a large component of Wiggins' potential victory this year was his time trial performance in Besançon on Monday, Indurain's Tour wins were in large part forged in his domination of races against the clock. The high point of the Spaniard's time trialling came in Luxembourg in 1992, when he gained more than three minutes on the entire field and as good as won the Tour.
Wiggins' victory in Besançon was a much closer affair – although he managed to gain nearly two minutes on his arch-rival, Cadel Evans – but there was more than an echo of "Miguelon", who was also known as "the Alien", in the tall, gaunt Briton's clinical and faultless performance; he beat out a relentless rhythm for kilometre after kilometre to leave his rivals reeling.
Then there are the mountain stages. During this year's Critérium du Dauphiné, which Indurain won twice as Wiggins has done, the Briton compared Team Sky to Indurain's lifelong squad, Banesto. He had been protected by his team-mates on the Col du Joux Plane, the race's toughest climb, just like Indurain 20 years before.
How far can the parallels extend? Wiggins is aiming to win his first Tour at the age of 32; Indurain was 27. The Spaniard made an impact on stage racing in his first year as a professional, 1986, when he became the youngest ever leader of the Tour of Spain. Wiggins, after eight years, suddenly smashed his way into the Tour hierarchy with fourth place in 2009.
"The biggest similarity is in their strategies," the 1988 Tour winner, Pedro Delgado, a former team-mate of Indurain who commentates for Spanish television, told The Independent. "Both of them dominate the time trials, open up an advantage there, and then play a defensive game in the mountain stages. Position-wise, too, they look very similar: you can tell by the way their upper bodies don't move. And when Wiggins, like Indurain, is in a time trial, you can tell he's totally focused."
Michael Hutchinson, like Wiggins a British time trial champion, said: "As racers, there are similarities. But Wiggins has a skinnier profile than Indurain, largely because Indurain had this massive lung capacity. Bradley aerodynamically is very good, he has a 'fuselage form' – if you look at his shoulders and his hips, you could fit his upper body into a tube. His back is so flat when he's in a time trial you could balance a tea tray on it."
Benito Urraburu, a Basque journalist who has followed the Tour since 1983, points out that Wiggins' background is in track cycling while Indurain came from road racing. But the two riders' tactic of losing weight to improve their climbing ability – Wiggins has shed 12kg since Beijing 2008, while Indurain lost roughly 6kg between his early days and first Tour win – is identical.
"The tactics are very similar," says Urraburu. "Indurain rarely attacked in the mountains. But like Wiggins and [Chris] Froome on the longer climbs in the Tour of Spain last year and again in the Tour last Saturday in the Planches des Belles Filles [where Wiggins took the lead], Miguel knew how to keep such a high pace at the front that he could wear his rivals out and force them to crack."
Delgado says: "Miguel was different because there would always come a point where he would be alone in the mountains with the other top contenders; Wiggins, so far, always has someone to support him.
"Another difference is that I think Indurain was a much better descender than Wiggins. Evans has dropped Bradley on climbs, and I think he and [Italian rival Vincenzo] Nibali will probably try to do the same again. The one time Gianni Bugno" – one of Indurain's biggest challengers – "did that on a Tour, Miguel rode right past him on the descent, as if to say, 'Don't try those games with me.'"
In terms of personality, Wiggins and Indurain could not be more different – Wiggins' childhood was in London and he is much more nervy and articulate than Indurain, a placid countryman from the Navarre backwoods who is said to have got angry three times in his career, once when his foot was accidentally trodden on by a journalist (yours truly). Wiggins last outburst of rage – also provoked by a journalist (but not me), with a non-too-veiled reference to anonymous doping insinuations – came last Saturday.
There is another parallel with Indurain that Wiggins is aiming for. The Spaniard won Olympic gold in the time trial at the Atlanta Games in 1996. First though, there is that minor matter of taking yellow in Paris.
Head to head stats
Born 16 July 1964, Navarre, Spain
Height 6ft 2in Weight 80kg
Tour de France debut 1985
Tours (stage wins) 12 (12)
Best Tour finish Winner 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995
Olympic medals Gold, time trial, 1996.
Born 28 April 1980, Ghent, Belgium
Height 6ft 3in Weight 69kg
Tour de France debut 2006
Tours (stage wins) 5 (1)
Best Tour finish Fourth (2009)
Olympic medals Bronze, team pursuit, 2000; Gold, 4km individual pursuit; Silver, team pursuit; Bronze, madison, all 2004; Gold, 4km individual pursuit gold, team pursuit, both 2008.
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