Prior to the Lance Armstrong years, it was rare for a Tour de France to be a foregone conclusion before it even started, but that seemed the case a quarter of a century ago as Miguel Indurain prepared his attempt to join the exclusive five-times winners’ club. Before the Tour kicked off in Brittany, it was clear that only an act of God would prevent Big Mig from joining Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, and doing so in record time with five straight wins. Even Merckx hadn’t done that.

Over the previous four Julys, no one had managed to mount a consistent challenge to Indurain. For four years it had been the same picture: crushing displays in the time trials, defence in the mountains and a Banesto squad which hired wisely and made good use of talented riders like Pedro Delgado, Jeff Bernard and Gérard

Boring”, said some. That was less a reflection of how Indurain tackled stages of the Tour than the way the race was constructed, and the sense of inevitability which had hung over cycling every July since the Luxembourg time trial midway through the 1992 race. By 1995, Jean-Marie Leblanc had realised he needed to tweak the format.

There were shorter stages in the mountains. There was an ‘Ardennes’ stage into Liège and a hilltop finish at Mende. But the long time trials still numbered two, and you could purr all you wanted over Marco Pantani’s climbing ability

when he wasn’t breaking bits of himself

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