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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Indurain's Tour Hopes Fade Away

LOURDES-HAUTACAM, France -- Miguel Indurain lived a nightmare on the day of his 32nd birthday, which could well have marked the end of an era.

The once mighty Spaniard suffered in the punishing climb to the Pyrenees resort of Hautacam and finished 12th, losing just about any remaining chance of a record sixth win when the race ends in Paris on Sunday.

The man who had been in a class of his own in each of the last five Tours simply could not follow the pace set by race leader Bjarne Riis of Denmark and finished 2 minutes, 28 seconds behind him.

"Riis will probably win in Paris and it will be very difficult for me to make the podium," said the quiet farmer's son from Navarre as he realized that his reign as undisputed Tour king was at an end.

"My morale was broken when I saw what kind of gear Riis was using," he said. "I knew at once I couldn't follow."

Ironically, Indurain faltered on the slope where he had reached his peak two years ago when he crossed the line in Hautacam just behind Frenchman Luc Leblanc with all of his rivals a long way back.

Then, the ride to Paris for a fourth consecutive win was merely a formality.

"I knew a day like this would come but I didn't think it would come today," he said after falling to 10th overall, 7 minutes and 6 seconds behind his likely heir.

Indurain, who joined all-time greats Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault with a fifth win last year, was already sure of a special place in the record books as, unlike his predecessors, he had scored his five wins in succession.

Soon after this year's race left the Dutch city of Den Bosch, though, he suggested he might not be as strong as in the past with a rare off day in the Alps.

In the seventh stage on July 6, after riding the awesome Madeleine pass in the seemingly effortless style which was his trademark, he had collapsed in the last 3 kilometers of the climb to the ski village of Les Arcs.

"I think that was because of all the rain and cold we've had," Indurain said a few days later. "I feel all right now. It will be tough but I haven't lost yet."

Indurain, who has always felt more at ease in hot weather, was expected to shine when the sun came out.

But Tuesday, the Spaniard, often described as a cold-blooded winning machine with no emotions, proved he was only human.