Latest Tour Reports

Work as usual for Miguel

To Miguel Indurain, the Tour de France, which starts on Saturday, is little more than business as usual. And he intends to get the job done. Those who expected him to get emotional before lining up for a record sixth win in the world's greatest cycle race were in for a disappointment.

``It will be tough but then it's always tough,'' said the soft-spoken Spaniard at a packed press conference. ``I've worked hard for this race, I know I'm ready and I'm confident.''

Indurain, who has been in a class of his own in the last five Tours, will try to surpass all-time greats Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault by becoming the first man to win it six times.

``It doesn't disturb my sleep,'' he said. ``My goal is not to make history, it's to win the race. To win one single Tour is already quite an achievement.''

Indurain, who won the Tour prologues in 1992 and 1993, could take command right from the start as the opening 9.4-km time-trial in the Dutch city of Den Bosch looks tailor-made for him.

``I might win it but my favourite is (Briton) Chris Boardman,'' he said. ``The most important thing for me will be not to lose too much time in it.''

The Tour might be the most romantic of all sports events but to the farmer's son from the Navarre region in the Spanish Pyrenees, it is simply what he does best and what he will keep doing without any unneeded pressure.

``To win the Tour takes a lot of hard work,'' he said, as if he was about to help his father to harvest the barley. ``You have to work day after day, hoping that all will go well.''

On the debit side is the fact that he will turn 32 during the race and, also, that this Tour will mark another step in the rise of a new generation of talented riders such as Russian Yevgeny Berzin, Frenchman Laurent Jalabert and Alex Zuelle from Switzerland who could make life difficult for him this year.

``Of course it will be difficult but it's never easy,'' he said. ``I've never regarded myself as unbeatable. I know I can lose.''

This year's Tour, ending on July 21 in Paris, looks particularly demanding with eight mountain stages and only one rest day.

Indurain, who has built his previous successes in time-trials, has lost weight and practised in the Alps and the Pyrenees to be at his best in the high climbs, where the race should be decided.

``In the first few days, the sprinters and their teams should control the race,'' he said. ``You never know what can happen but the battle should really start in the Alps and after the three stages there (from July 6 to July 8), we will probably know who has the best chance of winning the Tour.''

Indurain has often been criticised for concentrating only on the Tour but in his eyes the decision to focus is on the event is the main reason why he is still going strong.

``You have to make choices if you want to last,'' he said, adding that he would perhaps set new goals if he lost the Tour.

``But it's too early to talk about that,'' he said. ``All I know is there's a race starting tomorrow and I'm ready for it.''

Boardman starts again

Chris Boardman, who has painful memories of the Tour de France, is looking for a fresh start on Saturday in the world's greatest cycle race. All eyes will be on the Briton in the 9.4-km prologue in the Dutch city of Den Bosch, and not just because he has a good chance of winning it. Last year's Tour prologue turned into a nightmare for the former world hour record holder, who crashed out of the three-week race after less than two minutes with three broken bones. The Olympic pursuit champion, who has few equals in short time trials, fell heavily on a bend as he took risks on a rain-soaked 7.3-km circuit in the Breton port of St Brieuc. He sustained a double fracture of his left ankle and a broken right wrist -- injuries which effectively ended his season.

``It was a small mistake but it was at 80 kph and the consequences were fairly drastic,'' he said. ``But I did gain some benefit from it. It was the first time I had summer holidays in 13 years.''

Boardman, who used his enforced break to spend time with his four children, has proved he is back at his brilliant best by winning the Criterium International and the time-trial in the Paris-Nice. The 28-year-old from Liverpool, who started a new career as a road race professional in 1993 after success on the track, made his Tour debut in style in 1994, winning the prologue at an average speed of 55.152 kph -- a record for any stage in Tour history.

But he lost the yellow jersey before the Tour reached England four days later and withdrew after 11 days, just before the Pyrenees, because team director Roger Legeay did not want to push him too hard in his first Tour. This year Boardman dreams of going the full distance for the first time and has a reasonable hope of a good placing when the race ends in Paris on July 21.

``I didn't work for the prologue as hard as I did last year because I have other goals,'' he said. ``This year's priority is to reach Paris.''

Many believe Boardman could be a little more ambitious but past lessons have taught him not to put himself under too much pressure.

``I pushed myself to reach goals I didn't have the attributes to achieve,'' he said. ``I turned professional and the next year, for my first Tour, I was the team leader. I wasn't comfortable with the role I had been given.''

Now older and wiser, Boardman can prove he is more than merely a time-trial specialist, but he is still not promising too much. ``A top 20 placing is realistic,'' he said. ``It will be hard but I think I can make it.''