The tour leader, Bjarne Riis, with thoughts only for celebrations in Paris on Sunday, blew the race apart and Indurain with it, making sure that there was no chance of a happy return for the Spanish favourite.
Three attacks in two kilometres left the contenders straggling as Riis drove on, but in the final kilometre he began to waver. He zig-zagged, open-mouthed, but still had 49 seconds in hand over Richard Virenque, heading for a hat-trick of polka dot jerseys as the best in the mountains.
Indurain rode in two minutes and 28 seconds after Riis, and is now seven minutes and two seconds behind the Dane.
"I felt sorry for Indurain," Riis said. "I had hoped that both of us would be on the podium in Paris, and I just hope that he wins in Pamplona. I could see he is not in the same condition as in previous years."
Riis made his big move yesterday after consulting his old team-mate Laurent Fignon, twice winner of the Tour. "He told me that if I was feeling very good then I had to attack.
"I felt I had the legs to do it. I was very tired towards the end, but I knew that the others were just as fatigued."
The dismantling of his challengers was accomplished over the final eight kilometres of the 12km climb after 187km over a sizzling hotplate called Gascony, where the mercury hit 35C. A large birthday cake awaited Indurian at the summit finish but the celebrations will be muted. Yesterday's destruction on top of the death of an old friend, his family doctor, will test his serenity. "My morale was broken when I saw the large gearing that Riis was using. I knew immediately that I could not follow if he attacked," Indurain said. "I knew that this day would come but I did not think it would be today. It will now be very difficult to win a place on the final podium."
Riis's efforts also damaged the chances of his nearest challenger, Abraham Olano. He was 56 seconds behind Riis overnight but starts the tough mountainous stage into Spain two minutes and 42 seconds in arrears.
The fans will still line the route to salute their favourite as he rides into home territory but threats from Basque separatists are undermining the homecoming.
Yesterday, police in Pamplona, the finish town where Indurain first raced, detonated a four-kilogram bomb found in a garbage bin close to a bank. They had been tipped off, and this incident follows a report in a Basque newspaper, quoting an anonymous separatist: "The Tour will not leave Spain unharmed."
In 1992 they burned Tour vehicles, including one from Channel 4 television, and in the seventies Tour cars were wrecked when a garage was bombed.
"These two days on the other side of the Pyrenees are a homage to Indurain, the Navarrais and the Basques," the Tour director, Jean-Marie Leblanc, said. Before the race more than two weeks ago in the Netherlands he received a letter of threats.
To placate the separatists race commentary during the Spanish stages will be made in the Basque language, and to safeguard the 1,500 vehicles on the race guarded parking has been arranged and others have been advised to use garage parking.
TOUR DE FRANCE 16th stage (124 miles from Agen to Lourdes-Hautacam): 1 B Riis (Den) Deutsche Telekom 4hr 56min 16sec; 2 R Virenque (Fr) Festina +49sec; 3 L Dufaux (Fr) Festina same time; 4 L Leblanc (Fr) Polti +54; 5 L Piepoli (It) Refin +57; 6 T Rominger (Swi) Mapei +1:33; 7 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom; 8 P Ugrumov (Rus) Roslotto same time; 9 L Brochard (Fr) Festina +1:41; 10 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +1:46; 11 A Olano (Sp) Mapei same time; 12 M Indurain (Sp) Banesto +2:38; 13 Y Berzin (Rus) Gewiss +2:59; 14 P Luttenberger (Aut) Carrera +3:21; 15 P Jonker (Aus) ONCE +3:33; 16 M Fernandez (Sp) Mapei +3:36; 17 B Hamburger (Den) TVM +4:10; 18 A Elli (It) MG Technogym +4:11; 19 L Madouas (Fr) Motorola +4:15; 20 V Fois (It) Panaria 4:31. Selected: 39 C Boardman (GB) GAN +9:06.
Overall standings: 1 Riis 74hrs 8min 26sec; 2 Olano +2:42; 3 Rominger +2:54; 4 Ullrich +3:39; 5 Virenque +4:05; 6 Berzin +4:07; 7 Dufaux +5:52; 8 Luttenberger +5:59; 9 Escartin +7:03; 10 Indurain +7:16; 11 Ugrumov +7:28; 12 Leblanc +7:41; 13 Hamburger +10:48; 14 Piepoli +11:01; 15 Fernandez +13:07; 16 U Bolts (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +14:35; 17 A Zulle (Swit) ONCE +19:43; 18 V Ekimov (Rus) Rabobank +21:22; 19 Brochard +23:02; 20 S Cattai (It) Roslotto +23:37. Selected: 30 Boardman +42:26.
King of the Mountains: 1 Virenque 259pts; 2 Riis 173; 3 Leblanc 134; 4 Rominger 125; 5 Brochard 123.
Points: 1 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom 265; 2 F Moncassin (Fr) GAN 208; 3 F Baldato (It) MG Technogym 188; 4 D Abdoujaarov (Uzb) Refin 149; 5 J Blijlevens (Neth) 121.Reuse content