Indurain ready to make history

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MIGUEL INDURAIN conquered all to win the final time trial yesterday and extend his overall lead with a day to go in the 3,535 kilometre race. It was nothing less than expected, and he will arrive in Paris today ahead by 4min 35sec, the same advantage he had in 1992, when he beat the Italian Claudio Chiappucci.

It will be a historic day on the Champs-Elysees, as Indurain will be the first rider in 92 years of the Tour to win five in a row. Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault each won five. The Belgian Merckx managed his run in six years, but Anquetil and Hinault each took eight.

This year Indurain has shown himself to be in control all the way. On the final flat stage before an earlier time trial, he made a surprise attack that added a minute to his lead.

In the mountains he let team-mates pace him before taking over in the final climb, to minimise the margins and sometimes put gaps between himself and his principal rivals.

The Spaniard, who has no peers against the clock, covered the 46km around the Vassiviere lake, near Limoges, in 57min 34sec yesterday, beating his Danish rival Bjarne Riis by 48sec.

"I'm very happy to win this stage, especially as I missed out in the final time trials in each of the last two years," Indurain said. "I want to savour this win for a while. As for winning a sixth Tour, we'll have to see."

The Spaniard, who took the race leader's yellow jersey when he won the first major time trial of the Tour in Seraing, Belgium, at the end of the first week, has now gained victory in 12 Tour stages, the last 10 in time trials.

Switzerland's Alex Zulle, one of the few men with a time-trial victory over Indurain, was 1min 49sec slower. Overnight he had been Indurain's closest challenger, 2min 46sec in arrears.

Zulle's compatriot Tony Rominger is the only rider to have beaten Indurain in one of the Tour's main time trials since he started his reign. Yesterday, his time of 58min 39sec - including a quick change for a puncture - headed the leaderboard until Riis arrived 17sec faster. Then Indurain put Rominger in the shade by more than a minute.

Now all is ready for the victory parade along the Champs- Elysees today, but this final week has been emotional and stressful for the 117 riders left. The death of Fabio Casartelli after crashing on a Pyrenean mountain descent five days ago was mourned when the riders allowed his six Motorola teammates to cross the finish line together in Pau. The day was for remembering. Nothing was contested and no results were issued. Then Casartelli's team- mate the American Lance Armstrong paid the team's tribute by winning Friday's stage into Limoges.

It has been a good Tour for the French. They started with a man in the yellow jersey, Jacky Durand of the fated Castorama, then Laurent Jalabert and Richard Virenque quickly reasserted French dominance after a welter of Italian successes.

Virenque, wearing the red polka-dot jersey of the best climber, triumphed in the Pyrenees, as he had done the previous year. Last year Jalabert was carried from the finishing straight in Armentieres with a broken jaw. He is now fourth, more than eight minutes behind Indurain, but it has been a remarkable comeback.