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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Indurain Rides Circles Around Kremlin

The Masters' Criterium, the first professional, international bicycle race in Russia, was part show, part contest; part French, part Russian. But like everything else connected with the Tour de France in recent years, it was dominated by a Spaniard, Miguel Indurain.


For the well-connected on Saturday, there were pre-race canap?s and champagne in the riders' paddock. For the extremely well-connected there was a lap in the lead car with Jean-Marie LeBlanc, the tour's director general. Former downhill skiing champion Jean-Claude Killy and five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault were in attendance, along with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. And at the end there were flowers, champagne to spray, pretty women to kiss, and a crowd shouting "Mi-guel, Mi-guel."


Indurain demolished a field of 77 riders over the 22-lap, 116.6-kilometer distance, to win by 11 seconds over Russia's Vyacheslav Ekimov and Lance Armstrong from the United States in a time of two hours, 36 minutes, 46 seconds. Overall prize money was $20,000.


Although fresh off his record fifth-straight Tour de France win, Indurain wasn't favored to win the Moscow race.


The "smart money" said that Indurain was just going do his laps, collect his appearance money and go home.


That was the view of at least one Russian, Pavel Tonkov, winner of the Tour of Switzerland a month ago. "This is more of a show than an actual race," he said before the event. "I don't see myself going 100 percent for this one."


But Indurain doesn't ride to lose. Almost the first words out of his mouth at the post-race press conference were: "I didn't come here for a holiday." He sounded insulted. "I came to work."


Even in defeat, Ekimov did not admit he had lost a "real" race.


"Miguel is the best rider on the tour and it was fitting for him to win this race," said Ekimov. "This was more of a show than an actual competition. Otherwise, I would have given Indurain a run for his money on the last lap."


Aside from the fact that it didn't count in the standings, the organizers -- the Soci?t? du Tour de France, the Russian National Sport Fund and Velo 98+, which hopes to bring the 1998 world championships to Moscow -- did everything in their power to make the race seem like part of the larger event.


The biggest problems were passports and visas, said Agnes Pierret, the administrative director of the tour.


During the three weeks of the Tour de France, organizers were taking passports from the riders in batches, processing them and returning them. "Without the help of the Russian Embassy in Paris, we wouldn't be here," said Pierret. All told, 150 people, including 65 riders, plus 65 bikes with spare parts, boarded a chartered Air France flight Friday for the trip.


LeBlanc said it was a very emotional day for him, especially as he looked up at St. Basil's cathedral just before the start of the race. He also praised the Russian organizers, particularly the militia, for keeping the track clear.


If anything, crowd control was a little too efficient. Security for the VIPs kept even those of the 8,000 to 10,000 spectators who arrived two hours before the race 40 meters back from the start line, with an obstructed view.


The crowd was a mixed bag. Azizi Mikhailov was decked out in full racing gear, which he said he had "just bought."


One spectator in old, worn, racing apparel was Alexei Stepanovich, 69, who would not give his surname.


He said he had raced for the Dinamo club in the early 1950s, but the races were much different, with few spectators and, of course, without frills.


Most of the watchers seemed to enjoy themselves, although there is not much to see at a bicycle race. Even from the best vantage point, the riders were visible for little over a minute out of each seven-minute lap.


The route ran from just below St. Basil's into Red Square, then down the hill between the Kremlin and the cathedral, and onto the embankment, then the riders swung up past the Bolshoi Theater and back down to the river.


"That was a tough course," said Armstrong. "It doesn't seem like it, but after 22 laps," he trailed off, exhausted.


Predictably, the most popular part for the fans was the least popular with the riders. "The cobbled downhills," said Indurain, wincing slightly at the memory.


The fact that sporting history was being made was not lost on the participants. "Moscow is a special place," said Armstrong. "It's the first time it's ever been done and maybe the last."


The idea for the race came from Russian reporters who asked for years when the race would visit Moscow, said Pierret. She said that it is "logistically impossible" to hold a stage this far away from the rest of the race, so the idea of a one-day event was born.


This was the first such race, but the Soci?t? hopes it will become a regular attraction, either in Moscow or elsewhere.


Pierret said the cost, which she estimated at 2,000,000 French francs ($417,000), was "an investment" for the Emery Group, the holding company that runs the Tour. Some of the money will be recouped through television. The race was seen live in France, Spain, and Belgium, and on tape-delay in Russia.


What raised the race above mere spectacle was Indurain. He was part of two of the first three breaks, helping do the hardest work of cutting the wind and upping the pace.


Finally, with about three laps to go, an elite group got away: Indurain, Armstrong, Peter De Clercq of Belgium, and Ekimov as well as countryman Vladislav Bobrik. With two laps to go, Bobrik and de Clercq were losing touch. Then there were three.


With about half a lap left, after 114 kilometers, Indurain found the reserve that sets him apart and pulled away.


When asked about Indurain's final break, Armstrong laughed curtly and shook his head. "When he gets a lead, you can almost forget about it," he said.