LeMond goes out driving Indurain coolly completes triumphant Tour

July 29, 1991|By Peter Slevin | Peter Slevin,Knight-Ridder

PARIS -- The Tour de France crowned a quiet new champion yesterday on the streets of Paris, at least temporarily ending the reign of American Greg LeMond after a breathtaking final day of racing.

Miguel Indurain, a 27-year-old Spaniard, rode yesterday's 115-mile stage with the same cool authority that dominated the 23-day, 2,442-mile cycling race. He finished 3 minutes 36 seconds in front of Italy's Gianni Bugno after more than 100 hours of racing.

LeMond, the defending champion who has won three times here, began the day with no chance of victory. He finished seventh overall, 13:13 behind Indurain, the first time in six tries he has finished worse than third and his first loss in the last four Tours that he contested.

"I'm only human," LeMond said. "I'm not a bionic man. Sooner or later, I was going to be beat."

Dimitri Konyshev won his second stage of the Tour yesterday in a mad sprint to the finish, the fifth stage won this year by a Soviet. French and Italian riders also each won five. Americans were shut out.

Two riders went down in a spectacular crash just before the finish line on the Champs Elysees after Soviet cyclist Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, head down and sprinting hard, rode into a side barrier. His bike flew onto the course, cutting the wheels out from under a second rider as the pack lurched left to avoid the spill. Abdoujaparov was taken to a hospital with facial cuts.

Apart from the last --, yesterday's race belonged to Indurain, a farmer's son from the Basque region who climbed through cycling's ranks as a domestique in the service of 1988 Tour winner Pedro Delgado.

As recently as last year, Indurain sacrificed his own formidable ambition to help Delgado, who in 1990 finished far behind the triumphant LeMond. At the start of this year's race, it remained unclear which of the two Banesto teammates would become the team's designated challenger in a race marked by seniority and long-established etiquette.

Indurain made his first statement on the Tour's eighth day, defeating all others in an individual time trial, even though LeMond, 30, finished the day in Alenchon wearing the leader's yellow jersey.

The Spaniard made it emphatic on two grueling days in the mountains, one in the Pyrenees and one in the Alps. As LeMond faltered and the others faded, Indurain powered his way to the top.

He won the yellow jersey in Val Louron July 19, the day the French call LeMond's Black Friday, and he never relinquished it.

"It takes a strong personality to take the pounding of 23 days, both mentally and physically," said Jim Ochowicz, manager of the U.S.-based Motorola team. "He rode an intelligent race."

The strength of Indurain's team was also a factor, with Delgado finishing ninth and two others in the top 14.

LeMond finished strongly, placing third in Saturday's time trial and escaping for 20 miles Sunday, but he rode himself out of the race in Val Louron July 19. Struggling to minimize the damage, he overextended himself and paid for it for a week before he recovered, he said.

LeMond blamed a slight infection for his weakness in the Pyrenees, although he conceded that even if he had been "100 percent it would have been a very difficult Tour to win against a guy like Indurain."

For LeMond, whose drive is legendary, the loss will leave him feeling that he has something to prove next year. Nothing could make him more dangerous.

"The biggest disappointment for me is not winning," LeMond said. "To me, if I'm second or third or seventh, it's about equal."

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