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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Mountain Master: Indurain Readies Run

EL TIEMBLO, Spain -- As Tour of Spain riders enjoyed a rest day early this week, Miguel Indurain could be forgiven for thinking that for him the race has yet to begin.

Indurain, five times winner of the Tour de France, lies 22nd, one minute, 35 seconds off the lead -- an insignificant gap for a man ready to make the most of Tuesday's 46-kilometer time-trial and the climbs to come.

Less than two minutes separate the top 34 riders after nine largely uneventful stages dominated by the sprinters.

"The real Vuelta starts tomorrow," the Barcelona daily Sport said.

The change of terrain from the low hills of the Mediterranean coast to the steep climbs of northern Castile is likely to suit Spanish hero Indurain.

Overall leader Fabio Baldato expects the yellow jersey will no longer be his Tuesday afternoon.

"I think Indurain will win," Baldato said after Sunday's stage, won by fellow Italian sprinter Nicola Minali.

Madrid daily El Pais said the stage had represented the "end of the training session."

A training session may have been exactly what Indurain needed. He said before the race he hoped to use the early stages to recapture his form.

But the work has been tough -- 1,700 kilometers covered in 41 hours, with the pack averaging nearly 50 kph in the 160-kilometer ride to Albacete.

Indurain, who agreed to ride the Vuelta only reluctantly, seems to have recaptured his appetite for competition.

He even appeared unexpectedly in several sprint finishes and put behind him the 37 seconds lost early in the week after he was blocked by fallers.

The race has been run in a carnival-like atmosphere as entire villages turn out to salute Indurain, who has not competed in the race since 1991.

The big threat to Indurain's bid to win his first Vuelta comes from Laurent Jalabert and the Frenchman's ONCE team mate Alex Zuelle of Switzerland.

Two other pre-race favorites -- Fernando Escartin of Spain and three-times winner Tony Rominger -- have been unable to make up the 7 1/2 minutes they lost early in the week.

A demoralized Rominger has even gone on record as saying that he can hope only for a stage win from the Vuelta. With preparation for the world championships a priority, an early exit by the Swiss rider would surprise nobody.