Category Archives: Nostalgia

A trip back through the hazy strands of time to tell cycling stories of the professional road scene from yesteryear from.

What happens when you lead the tour by at least 3 minutes after 11 stages?

Eleven stages are in the books and for the first time we’re more than half-way to Paris. Chris Froome has a daunting 3 minutes, 25 seconds lead over his nearest rival following yesterday’s dominant display in the individual time-trial in which only Tony Martin — a non-GC threat — could take time from him. Many think the Tour is all but won and that everyone else is fighting for second. Indeed it certainly looks that way given that the five behind him are separated by just 45 seconds, something that might see them fight one another for podium places rather than try reign in Froome together, but what does history suggest?

Well history is on his side. 15 times in the last 50 years someone has carried a three minute lead or greater after stage 11 and on 10 occasions that same man wore the Yellow jersey into Paris.

2004: Thomas Voeckler – 3’00” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2001: François Simon – 11’01” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2000: Lance Armstrong – 4’14” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
1999: Lance Armstrong – 7’42” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
1994: Miguel Indurain – 4’47” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1993: Miguel Indurain – 3’23” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1985: Bernard Hinault – 4’00” (Eventual winner: Hinault)
1984: Vincent Barteau – 7’37” (Eventual winner: Laurent Fignon)
1973: Luis Ocaña – 9’08” (Eventual winner: Ocaña)
1971: Luis Ocaña – 8’43” (Eventual winner: Eddy Merckx)
1970: Eddy Merckx – 3’00” (Eventual winner: Merckx)
1969: Eddy Merckx – 5’43” (Eventual winner: Merckx)
1967: Roger Pingeon – 4’02” (Eventual winner: Pingeon)
1965: Felice Gimondi – 3’12” (Eventual winner: Gimondi)
1963: Gilbert Desmet – 3’03” (Eventual winner: Jacques Anquetil)

And of those five times that someone blew a three minutes lead or greater over fifty years, only once was it by someone that could be considered a general classification contender. That was Luis Ocaña in 1971. That year Ocaña had taken a monumental lead in the Tour, but serious pressure by Merckx on the climbs and the descents forced a mistake from Ocaña. Merckx, a fine descender, attacked on stage 14 in heavy rain on the down hill of a mountain and Ocaña was forced to chase. Merckx crashed, but so too did Ocaña on the same corner. Another rider ploughed into Ocaña injuring him. Despite injuries that some feel could have seen him continue, Ocaña was broken and didn’t get up. He had to be airlifted out of the Tour and Merckx went on to win. Thankfully for him when he had another huge lead two years later he held onto it right through until Paris. Mind you, Merckx wasn’t riding the Tour that year.

So there is a glimmer of hope that this Tour could yet open up again, and while the Ocaña incident from 1971 proves it’s never quite over — especially if Froome finds someone willing to attack him relentlessly through the Alps — history does suggest that baring an accident there’s little chance of him losing the jersey. In fact, fifty years of history suggests there is no chance.

And let’s take it a step further and look at any kind of a lead after 11 stages. Even having that lead by any margin is in your favour of keeping it until Paris, though only just. In the past 25 years, 12 of the men who wore Yellow after stage 11 also wore it into Paris. (I count Alberto Contador in 2010 and Floyd Landis in 2009, as well as Lance Armstrong between 1999 and 2005 as the man who wore it into Paris despite later being stripped of those titles).

See below:

2012: Brad Wiggins – 2’05” (Eventual winner: Wiggins)
2011: Thomas Voeckler – 1’49” (Eventual winner: Evans)
2010: Andy Schleck – 41″ (Eventual winner: A. Schleck)
2009: Rinaldo Nocetini – 6″ (Eventual winner: Alberto Contador)
2008: Cadel Evans – 1″ (Eventual winner: Carlos Sastre)
2007: Michael Rasmussen – 2’35” (Eventual winner: Contador)
2006: Floyd Landis – 8″ (Eventual winner: Landis/Pereiro)
2005: Lance Armstrong – 38″ (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2004: Thomas Voeckler – 3’00” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2003: Lance Armstrong – 21″ (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2002: Lance Armstrong – 1’12” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2001: François Simon – 11’01” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2000: Lance Armstrong – 4’14” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
1999: Lance Armstrong – 7’42” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
1998: Jan Ullrich – 1’11” (Eventual winner: Marco Pantani)
1997: Jan Ullrich – 2’38” (Eventual winner: Ullrich)
1996: Bjarne Riis – 40″ (Eventual winner: Riis)
1995: Miguel Indurain – 2’27” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1994: Miguel Indurain – 4’47” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1993: Miguel Indurain – 3’23” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1992: Pascal Lino – 1’27” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1991: Greg LeMond – 51″ (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1990: Ronan Pensec – 1’28” (Eventual winner: LeMond)

Of course, there is one other instance that sprints to mind of a leader blowing a big lead late in the Tour. Remember 2006 and stage 16? Floyd Landis had a 10 second lead on Oscar Pereiro and over 2 minutes on his supposedly biggest rivals going into that stage but blew to pieces on the final climb to La Toussuire and lost over ten minutes dropping out of the top ten overall. That collapse might well have stood up on record as the biggest of all time had Landis now produced his epic ride on stage 17 to get back up to third overall before winning it on the final time-trial. That is, until we learned just how he was able to do what he did on stage 17 before being stripped of that title.

Still it does serve as a reminder that with enough mountain stages and enough pressure anyone can have a bad day and it could cost them huge.
History might suggest that this Tour is all but won, but the Tour is famous for new history being made.


Impey the first(ish) African to wear Yellow; and I am happy to admit I’m obcessed with the Tour de France

Before I get started, a quick word of congratulations to Daryl Impey who today became the first African* to wear the Yellow jersey when he finished on the right side of a small finish line split in today’s stage to move ahead of his team-mate Simon Gerrans into the race lead. All he had to do was finish seven places ahead of Gerrans, but the three second gap between the 16th and 17th ensured he moved ahead on time also.

*According to Phil Liggett, Impey is the first South African born rider to wear Yellow, but not the first African born. That would be Richard Virenque who apparently was born in Morocco. You learn something new every day. Saying that, Virenque may have been born there but he is French. Impey grew up in Africa and that’s good enough for me.

So it was while sitting watching this quiet stage in which the entire peloton stayed together for almost the entire day setting up a bunch sprint that Andre Greipel won, that I realised just how obsessed I am with the Tour de France. The stage itself was far from anything memorable. Mark Cavendish crashed and had to chase back on and that might have left him a little tired to properly contest the sprint he finished fourth in, and Impey took Yellow, but aside from that it was lots of scenery and lots of admiring how the commentators fill hour after hour with interesting talk when nobody is doing much.

If I had ten dollars for every time they mentioned the wind and the potential of splits just ahead, I’d be able to take weeks unpaid vacation at work and fly myself over to watch the Tour in person. Today was one of those days I’ve talked about before where you wish you were in some small town at the side of the road, sipping a tea or a cold beer, watching the Tour’s caravan roll by and then edging to the side of the road to watch the race itself speed through. The weather looked nice and you wouldn’t have missed much out on the road had you not been able to find somewhere with a TV.

Yet I sat and watched it all. A recording of it. I knew the result of the stage and I had seen the final three kilometres — the only three kilometres that mattered — yet I sat down this evening and proceed to watch the entire days coverage. Three and a half hours of it. 150 odd kilometres of the bunch rolling along and Phil and Paul trying to tell me something new every couple of minutes.

But I’m not surprised at my obsession at all, it just took a stage like this for me to be reminded of it. I’ve no problem doing it and tomorrow I’ll do the same again.

Now it just so happens have had the time and the chance to sit down and watch it. If I had something else on that kept me away from it I’d miss the stage, or at least whizz through the recording to the final five kilometres. If I missed the stage I’d be sure to read the report later and scan the results sheet carefully. Actually, I do that anyway.

Yes, the obsession knows no bounds … at least not at simply watching the days stage. I bought four Tour guide magazines … all with virtually the same gibberish in them but enough differences to make them all interesting. Today I bought the latest issue of Cycling Weekly, despite the fact I knew the results from the three days in Corsica they’d be reviewing and had read post-race reports and rider reaction from various websites. I have even bought a couple of iPad editions of L’Equipe — the French sports newspaper — despite the fact I cannot speak French. Thankfully though the digital editions can be translated but I got them as much as to get a feel from the race from France itself and to see more of the pictures from the event as anything else. Sad? Yes. Obsessed? Yes. Ashamed? Absolutely not. It only lasts three weeks. I’m a cycling fan all year round but never like this.

This is the only event where I might decide not to bother going out for a spin on my bike because the days stage looks too exciting. That’s the problem living in Canada and following the Tour. The racing is on in the morning and that’s when I like to go for my weekend rides. When I used to live back in Ireland it was much easier: Go for a spin, come home, shower and sit down to relax and watch the afternoon’s stage.

Then again, don’t think my obsession was ever quite as drastic then as it’s grown to be now. Sure I would spend summer days as a teenager off from school lying on the sofa all afternoon listening to David Duffield fill the airwaves of a dull flat stage with the most unusual of stories, but there was no Internet then. Certainly no Twitter and the newspaper coverage in the UK back then was useless unless it was the stage Chris Boardman won the prologue. Back then I could tune in, watch the stage and tune out again. Mosy through Cycling Weekly’s reports later in the week.

Actually, before that I somehow seemed capable of doing whatever kids do on long summer days without a care in the world for the result only to return home around 6 O’Clock to watch the half-hour — HALF HOUR — highlights on channel four. That covered the days main action and told us the results and standings and that did us until the same time tomorrow.

Could I really go back to that now? Switch off the Net, read race reports in the daily paper or Cycling Weekly, avoid the days result and tune in to watch the recording of the final 15 kilometres only? the idea of it sounds like the simple life, but I doubt it.

Anyway, tomorrow the action should ramp up a little with a medium mountains stage. It’ll probably wash away the pure sprinters but the likes of Peter Sagan could hang in for a shot at his first win. I had tipped Jeremy Roy to win today’s stage … it’s well suited to an escape artist like himself, though I predicted this before the Tour started and thought that by now Sagan would have a win or two in the bag.

It’s also a last chance for some form of rest before the serious punishment of the high mountains arrive on Saturday. We’re getting down to the nitty gritty and this obsessive is very much moving into his element.

Stage 6 result

1. Andre Greipel (Lotto) in 3h 59-02

2. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) s.t.

3. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) s.t.

4. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep) s.t.

5. Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s.t.

6. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) s.t.

General classification after stage 6

1. Darryl Impey (Orica GreenEdge) in 22h 18’17”

2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) at 3″

3. Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) at 5″

4. Michael Albasini (Orica GreenEdge) s.t.

5. Michal Kwiatowski (Omega Pharma QuickStep) at 6″

6. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma QuickStep) s.t.

Memories of Merckx at Tre Cime di Lavaredo


Despite the route being changed tomorrow and a number of the climbs being taken out, it’s still set to be an epic stage in the Giro d’Italia thanks to the races finish at the iconic Tre Cime di Lavaredo. It’s a climb made famous by a young Eddy Merckx who won up there in 1968 en route to crushing a field of established veterans by 5 minutes overall.

An extract from the book, “The Story of the Giro d’Italia”, Volume 1 tells the story of that day on stage 12 when Merckx — at just 22 years of age but already the reigning World Champion and winner of the Paris-Roubaix, not to mention past winner of the Milan – San Remo (twice), Gent–Wevelgem and Flèche Wallonne — announced himself to the world as a Grand Tour rider and one capiable of winning every kind of race in what would become the greatest cycling career we’ve ever seen. As you’ll see, the conditions then sound very much like the kind of conditions we can expect tomorrow…

Through cold rain and snow (one journalist called the conditions “Dantesque”), clad in a short-sleeve rainbow jersey, wool cap, thick gloves and shorts, Merckx plowed ahead, catching and dropping the break that started the climb with a nine-minute lead. He went on alone to win at the top of Tre Cime di Lavaredo by 40 seconds over Giancarlo Polidori, the only survivor of the initial break, and 54 seconds over third-place Adorni. Further down the mountain there were those who couldn’t take the bitter cold and became little more than pedalling zombies.

The ease with which he ascended the day’s stiff slopes left his competitors shaking their heads in disbelief. One newspaper writer said Merckx had “climbed like a pursuiter”. He had left Motta and Zilioli more than four minutes behind while Gimondi conceded 6 minutes 25 seconds. Merckx later wrote that he rated the 1968 Tre Cime di Lavaredo stage win as his best-ever day in the mountains and one of the three greatest points of his career along with his 1969 Tour de France victory and gaining the World Hour Record.

Merckx took the maglia rosa that day and would keep it until the end of the Giro. It was his first Grand Tour win … He would go on to win another 11 over the next six years.

There’s nobody like that in this years Giro and we arrive at Tre Cime di Lavaredo on the penultimate day of the Giro with the general classification seemingly won, but that doesn’t mean we can’t expect to see fireworks. Will Vincenzo Nibali ram home his advantage and in the spirit of Merckx, go up the climb alone to victory? Or will someone else ride to glory and etch their name in Giro legend? It’s going to be worth watching.

And you thought Cancellara crushed the opposition at Flanders? Take alook at Eddy Merckx, 1969

Last weekend I followed the Tour of Flanders as the ever powerful Fabian Cancellara taught the new upstart Peter Sagan a lesson in how to win a Monument Classic, and while I watched in admiration as the big man blew the opposition away to win by a mighty 1min 27secs, I couldn’t help but think about what I had recently read about Merckx achieving in the same race 44 years before.

‘Half Man, Half Bike’ by William Fotheringham is the second biography of Merckx that I’ve read in the last five months, though I’m not yet finished Fotheringham’s effort. The first was ‘Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal’ by Daniel Daniel Friebe and if you’re a cycling fan you really should read at least one of these two biographies. Merckx was after all to cycling what Pele was to football, what Wayne Gretzky was to hockey, what Muhammad Ali was to Boxing, and Michael Jordan to basketball. He was in a league of his own during his prime and his story is truly fascinating when look back from the twenty-first century to such a by-gone era. Merckx didn’t just dominate the Grand Tours but he also dominated the spring classics, won World Championships and decimated the hour record. He rode and raced relentlessly all season, every season until his body finally gave up much younger than it might have had he been riding in the last twenty years where the riders are more specialized with their race programmes carefully selected. It’s for that reason that we perhaps don’t see such exploits, but then again sometimes such talents only come along once in a life time.

And that time was 1969, and what a twenty-four year old Eddy Merckx did to the sport on his home turf in Belgium, at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. All eyes were on the huge young talent who had already amassed a Giro d’Italia GC victory, a World Championship, three Milan-San Remo’s and a Paris-Roubaix on his palmares, desperate to see if he could win their big one.

It was raining heavily in Ghent that day, but this was entirely in the order of things. The Tour of Flanders is not always rained on but it is an event that needs wet and cold to be truly epic and so it was for Merckx’s first victory in de Ronde.

The rain poured, a wind howled out of the west. The race remains legendary. The day’s events hinged on a change in the course direction after a hundred kilometers, when the race reached Torhout after heading west from Ghent: there the gale changed from a headwind into a crosswind, favouring action at the head of the bunch.

The hostilities were started by Frans Verbeeck, who epitomised the Flandrian professionals who lived for and through the April Classics. Merckx then took charge and the bunch split to bits with over 160 kilometers still to race. Only twenty-three riders survived the wind-lashed selection to make it into the front group, including four Italians — Gimondi, Franco Bitossi, Dancelli and Marino Basso.

Merckx made his first move on the Oude Kwaremont, a narrow strip of windswept cobbles running through the fields above the town of Kluisbergen, up a hill that ran parallel with the newer main road. A puncture held him up, but he attacked again on the Kapelmuur — a one-in-four brute out of the town of Geraardsbergen to a hilltop chapel — where Gimondi and his countrymen kept him on the leash. He kept on attacking and with about seventy kilometers remaining — before the race returned into the wind to finish in Gentbrugge, close to the start — he got clear, simply be pressing a little harder on the pedals.

Rather than making an intentional, dramatic attack, he ratcheted up the pressure. The journalist Théo Mathy described the scene: ‘Going through the villate of Tollembeek, after doing his turn at the front of the group, he gained a few bike lengths on the others. He moved across to the side of the road, turned round and assessed the situation. Then he went on. There were 70km left to the finish. It was raining and the gusts of wind were bending the trees. No matter.’

Merckx’s thinking was simple but typical of him: riding back to the finish into the headwind, it would be far easier for the other riders to hang on in his slipstream. That meant they had to be eliminated beforehand. In this version of the course — which has changed several times since then — there were no major climbs in the run-in to the finish. If the lead group remained together, it was by no means certain that he could beat Basso, who was particularly rapid in a sprint.

During the slog to Gentbrugge, the time gaps stretched out to a ridiculous extent. Gimondi came in second, five minutes thirty-six seconds behind. The lead group was eight minutes back. Van Looy, now definitely yesterday’s Emperor, was a quarter of an hour off the pace.

Merckx’s status had changed since his world title and his Giro d’Italia win. he was now expected to win everywhere he raced but the paper that sponsored the Tour of Flanders, het Niewsblad, had speculated that maybe Merckx lacked that little something special it takes to win their race. There has always been a strong element of nostalgia to Flemish cycling, best expressed in the fact that ‘the Last of the Flandrians’ is an honorary title that has been bestowed several times, notably on Schotte, and Museeuw.

With this implicit concern about how the present matches up to the past, the question was clear: could the new, Bruxellois, champion match the Flandrian legends of yesteryear? Merckx said to Guillaume Michiels that he could answer his critics if the weather cooperated, and so he did, leaving the strongest cyclists of his generation floundering in his wake.

— Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham

It was a master stroke and despite the glory had had achieved before then, it was this one that seems to have cemented his control over the sport. Nobody was in any doubt anymore and no race was safe. A few weeks after that Tour of Flanders win Merckx would add Liège-Bastogne-Liège to his Monument win-list; an achievement of which winning the pair in the same year has not been done by anyone else since (he would do it again in 1975). A few months later he would enter the Tour de France for the first time and win it…by a mere 17mins 54secs!

Merckx would win a staggering 525 professional victories in his career including 54 in one season; he won 34 stages of the Tour de France, spent 96 days in the Yellow jersey, won the general classification, the points classification and the mountains classification in the same Tour (1969), won 28 classics including 7 Milan-San Remo’s and 11 Grand Tours in all including the Giro-Tour double three times. In 1972 alone, at perhaps the peak of his powers, Merckx would finish only 7th at Flanders and in Roubaix, but would otherwise win Milan-San Remo, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Flèche Wallonne, the Giro di Lombardia, the Hour record (at 49.431km), the Giro d’Italia pink jersey (plus 4 stages), and the Tour de France yellow and green jerseys (plus 6 stages).

And yet for many, it’s that ride in Flanders ’69 that stands out in his glittering career. (It and stage 17 of the Tour that same year, from Luchon to Mourenx in which Merckx attacked over the top of the Tourmalet with 130km still remaining, built a lead of 7mins by the top of the Aubisque and finished the day almost 8mins ahead of 2nd place).

It was moments like this that highlighted the incredible talent of Merckx, but he also had an incredible dedication to his craft that he maximized to the fullest. The kind of work ethic that separates the greats from the good, or even the very good. This extract from the same book reveals it perfectly, allowing his monumental feats to become the legends they are today:

Patrick Sercu tells a story which he believes shows the level of Merckx’s obsession.

‘Liège-Bastogne-Liège was a race which didn’t have a course that suited me, so I rarely rode it. One year I had a call the day before from the team manager, Franco Cribiori, to say that Roger De Vlaeminck, the star of the Brooklyn team, was ill and wouldn’t start. That meant I had to race as I was the No. 2 in the team.

I left Ghent on the Saturday afternoon with my father to drive down: a slow drive as there was no motorway. We were driving down the main road from Brussels to Liège, it was raining and snowing together, the worst possible conditions for riding a bike.

A long way up ahead we spotted a cyclist on the road: we couldn’t work out who would be riding in such weather. It was so bad that there was no one else outside. When we passed the bike rider we saw it was Merckx: he was riding the hundred kilometres from Brussels to Liège, all alone, because he had not won Fleche Wallonne during the week.

He won Liège-Bastogne-Liège the next day five minutes ahead of the second rider: I climbed off after forty kilometres.’

— Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham

Wiggins chasing the Indurain model

A quick disclaimer. In no way is the following a comparison of Bradley Wiggins to the great Miguel Indurain. Such an argument wouldn’t be put forth until we were sitting here sometime around 2016 talking about Brad Wiggins winning another time-trial and pulling on yet another Yellow jersey. What I am doing here is highlighting the comparison between the two era’s after the Tour organizers decided to bring back the second individual time-trail at the end of the first week of the race. People have said this current Tour is in risk of being a little drab now that Wiggins has cemented his lead leaving him with no need to go on the attack the rest of the Tour, especially with another time-trial to come, but it reminded me a lot of those Indurain days and I’ve put together a look at how the big Spaniard would seize control of the Tour at the early time-trail before marking his rivals all the way to glory.

Of course, the difference here is that Wiggins isn’t Indurain. Wiggins probably is breakable and that there is some savage racing to come in which the likes of Cadel Evans will do everything in his power to crack the Englishman. If he does, he’ll then have to find a way to do the same to Chris Froome, who looks the best climber in this Tour in a way that Andy Schleck might have been had he been healthy, but also a man who can time-trial, unlike Schleck. Anyway, right now Wiggins is doing his best Indurain impression and given it’s success rate, you can’t blame him. He’s ticked the first box by winning that early time-trial and pulling on the Yellow jersey … can he do the next by keeping it to Paris?

1991 — Stage 8: Argentan to Ancelon, 73 km

Coming into this one the race had been relatively flat. Indurain was sitting outside the top 15, 3-25 behind the Yellow jersey of Thierry Marie who two days before had taken the race lead after a spectacular and long solo break. More importantly, Indurain was 2-18 behind pre-race favourite Greg LeMond. Indurain won the time-trial, beating LeMond by eight seconds moving him up to forth in the GC, 2-17 behind LeMond who had taken the Yellow jersey. LeMond would crack in the mountains, Indurain would mark the major moves and take over the race lead. By the second time-trial the tour was in the bag. He beat his new rival, Gianni Bugno by 27 seconds to seal his first Tour victory by a 3-36 margin over the Italian.

1992 — Stage 9: Luxembourg to Luxembourg, 65 km

The race started in Spain and by stage nine’s time-trial was already in Luxembourg. This was the Tour of the EU rather than the Tour de France, and in it’s early days already had a couple of mountain stages as well as a team-time-trial. As a result the race was well shaken up. Pascal Lino was in Yellow coming into the time-trial with a 5-33 lead on Indurain. More importantly Indurain was 2 minutes behind Claudio Chiappucci, 1-04 behind LeMond and 27 behind Bugno. Naturally, he won the time-trial in one of his most dominant performances ever. Second place man, Armond De las Cuevas was 3 minutes behind. Lino kept Yellow but he was never a serious GC threat, and as a result Indurain had already put his biggest rivals behind him. After stage 13 and the first major league day in the mountains, Indurain was in Yellow and on his way to his second Tour victory.

1993 — Stage 9: Lac de Madine, 59 km

After a first week in which Indurain won the prologue, lost some time in the team-time-trial, and watched the sprinters do their thing or non-contenders win from successful breaks, Indurain came into the time-trail well down in the general classification but in a similar position to his rivals. He won it — his third straight first time-trial of the tour victory — by 2-11 from Bugno. It put Indurain into Yellow 1-35 up on Eric Breukink and he never looked back. He marked his rivals through the mountain stages, came second to Tony Rominger in the penultimate stage time-trial but beat the Swissman in the final overall standings by 4-59. Fifth place Bjarne Riis was over 16 minutes behind.

1994 — Stage 9: Perigueux to Bergerac, 64 km

Chris Boardman won the prologue, Indurain’s Banesto team lost little time in a third place finish in the team-time-trial and the rest of the first week belonged to the sprinters meaning that come the by now annual ninth stage individual time-trial in 7th overall, 30 seconds behind the Yellow jersey of Johan Museeuw but 28 seconds on his biggest rival, Tony Rominger. In the time-trial it was the usual statement of intent. Indurain beat Rominger by 2 minutes with nobody else even close. It put him comfortably into Yellow and again the marking began. Piotr Ugurmov beat him comfortably in the final time-trial but by then the Tour was long won as the Spaniard made it four in-a-row with Ugurmov in second 5-39 behind for Indurain’s biggest winning margin of his five wins.

1995 –Stage 8: Huy to Seraing, 54 km

Indurain didn’t wait until stage 8’s time-trial to put the hurt into his rivals. On a flat stage into Liege the day before, he went on the attack with Johan Bruyneel and nobody could do anything about it. Bruyneel hugged his wheel the entire way coming around him only to take an undeserved victory, but for Indurain it was a time-trial before the time-trial and he took 50 seconds out of his rivals. In the time-trial he looked tireder than normal but still won it, beating Bjarne Riis by 12 seconds, Rominger by 58 and Evgueni Berzin by 1-38. It put Indurain into Yellow and once more he never looked back. He won the final time-trial on stage 19 and rolled into Paris with a 4-35 advantage over Alex Zulle for his fifth straight title.

* * * * *

2012 — Stage 9: Arc-et-Senans to Besançon, 41.5 km

The 2012 Tour throwback to the Indurain era doesn’t just begin and end with the fact they have two individual time-trials, but putting it right in on stage 9 made the comparisons uncanny. Unlike the Indurain days there had been a few mountain stages leading into it and that had been enough to bring the top riders in the Tour to the fore and put Brad Wiggins into Yellow by a handful of seconds. In the time-trial though he did what only Indurain did between 1991 and 1995 and won that first weeks time-trial, and like Indurain he blew away his opposition with team-mate Chris Froome second at 35 seconds, time-trialing legend Fabian Cancellara third at 57 seconds, and Wiggins’ biggest rival coming into the Tour, Cadel Evans, 1-43 down. As a result Wiggins now carries a 1-53 lead into the big mountains showing that this crucial time-trail was as important as many suggested it might be when the route was unveiled all those months ago.