In 1995, Spanish cyclist Miguel Induráin (born 1964) pedaled his way to victory in the Tour de France, becoming the first rider to win the race five years in a row. Twenty years later, Induráin still held the record for the most consecutive tour wins after U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong had his seven titles revoked after admitting to taking performanceenhancing drugs.
Miguel Induráin dominated international cycling during the 1990s, taking gold in the men's individual time trial at the 1996 Summer Olympics and notching two victories in the Giro d'Italia (1992–93). During his career, Induráin was well known for his superior athletic build, which allowed him to overpower the competition. First, there was his size: 6-foot-2 and 176 pounds during his prime. Then there were his organs: his heart with a resting rate of 28 beats per minutes (the adult average is 60 to 100 beats per minute) and his fantastic lungs with a capacity of eight liters (the average for males is six). These physical attributes helped Induráin stay on the winner's podium year after year.
Induráin was so indomitable that fellow riders referred to him as an extraterrestrial. In the run-up to the 1996 Tour de France, rival Italian cyclist Claudio Chiappucci described the Spaniard to David Walsh of the London Sunday Times, admitting: “Sometimes I tell myself he's a bit of a superman, or a Martian, or some force from another planet.”
Miguel Angel Induráin Larraya was born July 16, 1964, in Villava, a small town in northern Spain that is situated near the bull-running city of Pamplona. He was one of five children born to Miguel Induráin and Isabel Larraya. Miguel Induráin Senior married into the same family as his brother. Consequently, Miguel Junior grew up surrounded by cousins whom he played with on the family farm in Villava. The two families even lived together for a time during Induráin's younger years.
As a child, Induráin played soccer and then turned to cycling. “From a very young age I was on a bike,” he told Cyclist magazine interviewer Mark Bailey. “Not a road bike, just a town bike in my village. I remember always having a bike at home.” Initially, Induráin enjoyed racing because he liked the ham sandwich and soft drink offered at the finish line. This first foray into cycling was short-lived, however, as he eventually returned to soccer. Later, he tried track and field and became a district champion in the 400-meter sprint. As a teenager, he went back to cycling, joining the local CC Villaves club. This time, he stuck with it and over the next decade cycling moved from a hobby to a passion to a job.
In 1983, Indurâin stepped into the limelight by winning the Spanish Amateur Road Championships. He was such an unknown on the cycling scene that the newspapers misspelled his name in the race results. The victory brought him national attention and he earned a spot on Spain's 1984 Olympic cycling team. Indurâin raced poorly in Los Angeles, however, and did not finish the 118-mile Olympic course. Despite the poor showing, he raced well overall that year and decided to turn pro.
In 1985, Induráin joined a professional race team sponsored by the U.S. packaging company Reynolds. At the time, fellow Spaniard Pedro Delgado was the Reynolds team leader and star. During his first years with Reynolds, Induráin rode in support of Delgado as a “domestique.” Domestiques are riders who serve as workhorses for the team leader. As a domestique, Induráin paced Delgado and cut the wind for him by riding in front so Delgado could draft and save energy for breakaways.
Induráin rode his first Tour de France in 1985 as a lastminute entrant for Reynolds, taking the place of an ill teammate. Unprepared for the challenge, he abandoned the race after four stages. In 1986, he quit the Tour de France after 12 stages. During the next year, Indurâin dropped a dozen pounds from his frame and began to see positive results. He finished 97th in the Tour de France in 1987 and 47th in 1988, when he helped Delgado to a firstplace victory. In 1989, Indurâin captured his first stage victory, winning stage nine, a 91-mile (147-kilometer) mountain course through the Pyrenees. He finished 17th overall that year while helping defending champ and teammate Delgado to a third-place victory.
In 1990, the Spanish bank Banesto took over sponsorship of the team. Once again, Induráin rode in support of Delgado, who ended the Tour de France in fourth place. Indurâin finished 10th, but cycling insiders speculated that he could have finished higher—perhaps even won—if he had not waited on Delgado. For instance, during stage 11 Indurâin stayed back to pace Delgado to the start of a lengthy climb up Alpe d'Huez, and it cost him several minutes as he waited to help his teammate.
A week later, during stage 16, Delgado struggled through the mountains, so Indurâin was given the green light to go win the stage. That day's race ended with a hilltop finish at the ski resort at Luz Ardiden. During the climb, Induráin passed everyone, including U.S. cyclist Greg LeMond, who went on to win the Tour de France that year. At the start of that day, Italian cyclist Chiappucci was in first place with possession of the yellow jersey. Naturally, Chiappucci wanted to extend his lead by winning the race up to Luz Ardiden. As Chiappucci later told the London Sunday Times’ Walsh, Induráin's ability in the mountains came as a complete surprise. “I attacked in the Tourmalet and near the finish we were alone, me, LeMond and him. I said, ‘This great big carcass cannot climb Luz Ardiden better than me.’ But at each corner, he was still there. At the top, he went on and won.”
In 1991, team Banesto entered the Tour de France with no designated team leader; both Indurâin and Delgado stood in the running for the top spot. During the first week, Banesto made a poor showing, and the Spanish press admonished the team for its underwhelming start. Then came stage eight, a 45.3-mile time trial through the rolling Normandy coast. Induráin won stage eight. It was a pivotal moment, as he and Delgado switched roles, Delgado now riding in support of Indurâin. As the tour progressed, Induráin continued to attack in the mountains and went on to win the stage 21 time trial to secure his first Tour de France victory. He completed the 2,432-mile race in 101 hours, one minute, and 20 seconds. He was three minutes and 36 seconds faster than the second-place finisher.
Induráin started the 1992 season in good form. In midJune, he became the first Spaniard to win the famed Giro d'Italia. Later that month he won the Spanish National Road Race Championships by overtaking a three-man breakaway. Less than a week later, Induráin started the Tour de France by winning the opening prologue. Over the course of the race, he stayed close to the leaders in the mountain stages, then broke out during the time trials. Induráin won the 40-mile, stage-nine time trial three minutes ahead of the other cyclists. During the stage-19 time trial, Induráin hammered out a stage victory with a margin large enough to give him a four-minute, 35-second lead over Chiappucci, who was in second place overall. With only two stages left, no one could catch Induráin and he notched his second tour victory.
Induráin finished the 1992 Tour de France in 100 hours, 49 minutes, and 30 seconds. Chiappucci finished second, and LeMond did not even stand a chance. “I thought I was riding well, really strong, but I kept losing time to him [Induráin] every kilometer,” the American cyclist told Sam Abt for Bicycling magazine. “It was unreal, and I can't explain it.” The 1992 tour was the fastest yet, with the riders averaging 24.5 miles per hour during the 2,490-mile race. The victory gave Induráin his first Giro-Tour double. At the time, only five other riders had pulled off victories in the two races in the same year.
In 1993, Induráin scored his third consecutive Tour de France victory with his usual formula: stay close in the mountains and dominate the time trial. Another highlight included riding with his little brother Prudencio, who served as a domestique for Banesto and finished 126th. Big brother Induráin took the yellow jersey after the stagenine time trial and held it all the way to the finish. He defended his title the following year, winning the 1994 Tour de France by a margin of five minutes and 39 seconds, and repeated his victory a year later, becoming the first cyclist to win five tours in a row. Three other riders had won five tours, but not consecutively. They included Belgium's Eddy Merckx, along with French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.
Riding the Pinarello sword bike, Induráin went 53.040 kilometers in one hour to set a new world hour record, breaking Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree's record of 52.71 kilometers, set in 1994. Induráin went so fast that he lost feeling in the right half of his body. The sword bike was later outlawed by rules changes within the International Cycling Union, the world governing body for cycling. More-recent rules stipulated that a bike had to have a triangular shaped frame with three sides.
In 1996, Induráin attempted to win an unprecedented sixth Tour de France, but he struggled from the start and ended up finishing in 11th place. He pulled out one last victory, however, in the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta a few weeks after the Tour de France ended. In Atlanta, he won the men's individual time trial to take gold. He retired in early 1997.
Despite his success, Induráin was criticized for being a boring rider. Because he dominated the time trial, he rarely had to launch crowd-pleasing aggressive attacks through the mountains because time-trial victories usually gave him a large cushion through the rest of the stages. Ten of Induráin's 12 Tour de France stage wins came in the time trial. Induráin's personality was also calm and easygoing, and he carried that persona onto the roadway. According to his former mechanic, Enrique Sanz, Induráin was a crafty competitor, riding just fast enough to win without overextending himself and jeopardizing his health. “Miguel was like that, he would never get nervous, he always knew how to expend the exact amount of energy necessary and save some for the next day,” Sanz explained to Bicycling magazine writer Alasdair Fother ingham. “He was a very wise rider.”
Some critics harped about Induráin's physical characteristics, saying they gave him an advantage. During his riding years, he was known as “Miguelon” or “Big Mig.” Despite his physical attributes, the cyclist was quick to point out that his physique was only a part of the equation. As Induráin maintained, there was also a mental component to winning, telling Cyclist magazine writer Mark Bailey that a rider has to have the drive to get the most out of his body, no matter his attributes. “There are cycling champions who have less peak fitness than their opponents, but more motivation,” he explained. “Others have great fitness but don't want it as much.”
After retirement, Induráin continued to ride on a weekly basis. He also rode with his eldest son, Miguel Induráin, Jr. The younger Induráin joined the Spanish Caja Rural under-23 cycling team in 2014. Induráin and his wife, Marisa, had three children, and during the years after his retirement, he sought to keep his family out of the public sphere, even shying away from commercial endorsements. “I don't miss competition,” he told Chicago Tribune writer Bonnie DeSimone. “I burned up all my eagerness for it. I'm over that phase of my life. I ride my bike when the weather is nice, just for enjoyment, alone, or with my brother or a friend.”
Abt, Samuel, Champion: Bicycle Racing in the Age of Miguel Induráin, Bicycle Books, 1993.
Bicycling, July 1993; September/October 1993; April 1997.
Sunday Times, June 30, 1996.
Independent (London, England), http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/ (September 2, 1994), “Induráin Swaps Tour de France for Tour de Force.”
Chicago Tribune online, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/ (May 25, 2003), “Induráin Coasts in Retirement.”
Cyclist online, http://www.cyclist.co.uk/ (May 31, 2016), Mark Bailey, “Miguel Induráin: The Record Tour Winner.”❑