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Sports

Froome set to take third Tour de France title

media Team Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

As Chris Froome prepares to take his third Tour de France later today,Sunday, thoughts turned to the last rider to establish a Tour dynasty: Miguel Indurain.

Although Lance Armstrong won seven successive Tours, his results have been stripped from the record books over doping, leaving Indurain as the last rider to have enjoyed a dynasty, winning five Tours from 1991-1995.

By seeing off all comers this year, Froome also becomes the first rider since Indurain to win back-to-back titles, having triumphed last year and in 2013.

Froome is rapidly writing his name into the Tour history books, with only four riders having been more successful than him with five Tour titles: Indurain, Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.

The Sky team leader may yet equal or better such records as he himself has said he believes he can compete for another five or six years.

And as long as he keeps winning, he will be the undisputed Sky leader at the Tour, just as Indurain was for Banesto.

There are many similarities in the path to Tour stardom between Indurain and Froome, who both started as a super-domestique for another champion.

Pedro Delgado won the Tour in 1988 with Indurain as a team-mate, while Froome was second to his British Sky leader Bradley Wiggins in 2012.

Delgado remained Banesto's leader for a couple more years, but after he could finish only fourth in 1990, his and Indurain's status changed.

They arrived as joint leaders in 1991, but Indurain quickly proved he was the stronger and Delgado slipped humbly into the role of lieutenant.

Delgado had struggled on the 12th stage from Pau to Jaca in Spain, according to Eusebio Inzue, the sports director of Banesto back then and of Movistar now.

- 'Forge the legend' -

"We went from France to Jaca, we were in total euphoria with Perico (Delgado). The whole country was expecting but it wasn't a good day and we adopted a prudent tactic," said Unzue.

"I remember the criticisms and disappointment. We were desperate to get back to France.

"Who would have known that we were on the eve of beginning to forge the legend of one as great as Miguel?"

It was July 19, 1991, the 13th stage and the first time that Indurain would pull on the coveted yellow jersey at the end of the day.

"It was a really tough day, we climbed half the Pyrenees. He escaped with his friend (Claudio) Chiappucci on the descent of the Tourmalet and left behind the greats: (Greg) Lemond, (Laurent) Fignon and (Gianni) Bugno."

One difference with Froome's succession of Wiggins was the ease with which it happened at Banesto.

There was none of the verbal sparring -- even amongst wives --- no conflicting messages coming from the rival would-be leaders.
"For Perico it was the best relief, his leadership passed to a team-mate, a friend," added Unzue.

"It was lucky, Miguel had grown at the side of the professor Perico, to rise as a worthy pupil."

- 'Glued to television' -

It was a time in which, unlike recently, Spain was starved of sporting success, at least until the 1992 Olympics on home soil in Barcelona.
"From what I've been told, the entire country was glued to the television, it was exceptional," added Unzue.

Just like Froome, though, who has suffered from suspicion, scepticism and at times outright hostility due to his performances, Indurain was not free from the doubters, in part due to his dramatic weight loss, dropping from almost 90kg to 80kg between his junior years and his Tour dominance.

He went from a time-trial specialist to an able climber, capable of sticking with the very best in the mountains -- although that in part was due to exceptional descending skills.

He never failed a doping control but he did ride through the 1990s, an era tainted by the spectre of EPO, blood doping and the drug-taking scandals that would tarnish the sport's image for the next 20 years: Festina and Armstrong.

Indurain's results and reputation endure. Froome will be hoping -- or perhaps he is already sure -- that his story will follow Indurain's in that respect.
 

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