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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spaniard Sets Spokes For Sixth French Win

DEN BOSCH, Netherlands -- Ambitious young rivals and awesome mountains stand between Spaniard Miguel Indurain and a unprecedented sixth Tour de France win.


After joining all-time greats Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault with a fifth win last year, the quiet farmer's son from Navarra will go for history in this year's Tour, starting Saturday from the Dutch city of Den Bosch.


Another win would earn him a line of his own in the record books as the first rider to score six wins in the world's greatest cycle race.


To those who were predicting the end of his reign, Indurain answered in style by winning the Dauphine Libere earlier this month with an impressive demonstration of power in the final ascent.


"He will be at his best for the Tour, no doubt," said Tony Rominger, who finished second in that race and must have remembered that Indurain won the Dauphine in similar fashion last year before going on to win the Tour.


"It will be tough for him, tougher than ever but he will still be the favorite," Rominger added.


The 35-year-old Swiss, who came second to Indurain in the 1993 Tour, could give the Spaniard a hard time once again but it sounds safer to bet on riders of the new generation such as Russian Yevgeny Berzin, Swiss Alex Zuelle or Frenchman Laurent Jalabert.


Indurain, who will turn 32 during the race, will not last forever and one or another of those men will take his place.


But not, perhaps, just yet.


"I've been a professional for 12 years, since 1984, and I've only seen results in these last six years," said Indurain, as if he wanted to teach his challengers to be patient. "One has to know how to wait."


This year's race, which starts with the prologue in Den Bosch and makes other cross-border incursions into Belgium, Italy and Spain before reaching Paris on July 21, looks particularly demanding with eight mountain stages and only one rest day.


"It's a very hard Tour, very complicated," said the Spaniard after discovering the climbs which take the Tour clockwise through France, taking in the Jura, Alps, Massif Central and Pyrenees. "The really hard part will be the section in the Alps and Massif Central."


The battle should really start in the Alps with the first main time trial, a 30-kilometer climb from Bourg Saint-Maurice to the ski resort of Val d'Isere on July 7 which looks the most demanding seen in the race for years. If Indurain is not already firmly in command, he will have one last opportunity in the penultimate stage on July 20, a potentially decisive 60-kilometer time trial through classic vineyards between Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion.


Danger for the defending champion might well come from the formidable Once stable, which has potential winners in Zuelle, who was second last year, and world No. 1 Jalabert.


"Miguel can only be beaten in the mountain stages," said Zuelle. "One of us must attack to force him to work and the other one must control him."


But Zuelle did not sound too confident about his chances to inflict a rare defeat on the Spaniard.


"I remind you that [Italian Gianni] Bugno, [Italian Claudio] Chiappucci and Rominger also finished second in a Tour," he said. "They thought they'd be able to beat Indurain the next year but it was always the same man who won."