Tour de France '93: Onus is on Indurain to bolster his reputation: Robin Nicholl reports from Le Puy du Fou on a technological threat to the supremacy of last year's winner

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The Independent Online
MIGUEL INDURAIN, a firm favourite to join the giants of the Tour de France, can expect a novel challenge when the Tour opens here today. The Spanish team Once, led by the Dutchman Erik Breukink and Alex Zulle, of Switzerland, have come up with something special for the 6.8- kilometre opening race-against-the-clock through the hills of the Vendee. The team will be using a newly developed machine from the same stable as Chris Boardman's Olympic mount in Barcelona.

Indurain's racing reputation matches his six-foot plus frame, and today the Basque begins his quest for a hat-trick in the Tour. A third victory in three weeks' time will set the farmer's son from Villava on the same pedestal as the American Greg LeMond, Belgium's Philippe Thys and the Frenchman Louison Bobet.

No one is disputing Indurain's chances, but Once do not intend to make it easy. Breukink, who injured his knee in a crash during training yesterday, will, if he is fit today, probably ride the machine in the prologue along with Zulle. The Swiss, in his first Tour last year, took the yellow jersey from Indurain for a day, and has beaten Indurain in a time trial, which is something few can boast, particularly in their first professional year.

The one-piece carbon-fibre frame, known as a monoblade, was completed only two days ago by Look in conjunction with the designers and engineers of Lotus Engineering in Norwich. Look is not the only French involvement. An electronic gear change developed by Mavic has been added to this first road bike from the British designers.

'I believe that we are going to make another impact, just like in Barcelona,' Rudy Thomann, a senior development engineer, said after Breukink had road-tested the bike yesterday, and said he was 'very happy' with it.

Look, noted for introducing pedals that clip to riders' shoes, have linked up with Lotus to produce and market the machine at an investment of 6m French francs ( pounds 750,000).

'The big development is in the aerodynamics, and we reckon that we can save three seconds per kilometre with this machine,' Richard Mamez of Look said. In the prologue that could equate to 20 seconds' advantage over the field.

If it succeeds in the short time test then Breukink and Zulle could be well-armed for the crucial, longer time trials which Indurain dominates, and uses to build his overall time advantage.

Indurain was unaware of the secret weapon of the Once team, but admitted he was always watchful. 'Going for victory in the Tour is like being a goalscorer in front of goal. He has to do a thousand things to get it right, and a solitary goal can win the European Cup. It is the same for me. Scoring is what counts,' he said.

Whether Breukink or Zulle can bring out their best on the new machine only time will tell, but Indurain cannot rest throughout the 3,500km that lie ahead.

With Claudio Chiappucci ambitious to improve on two seconds and one third placing in the last three years, the mountainous stages will be edgily disputed, especially if he can emulate the 130km audacious solo ride that took him through the mountains to victory as King of the Mountains last year.

Gianni Bugno is not so adventurous and although his record shows a second and a third in the last two Tours, he lacks the killer instinct.