_July 2005

By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed



Top 25 All Time Tours #25

1996: Is Miguel Ready for Six?


Miguel “Big Mig” Indurain, the first five-time defending Tour de France (TdF) champion, entered the 1996 race with a difficult battle for a record setting sixth victory. Every year the TdF organizers institute small changes in the routine to give each race its own identity. This year's Tour changes offered two minor but significant innovations. First, the team time trial was eliminated from the schedule. Second, the first individual time trial came a day after the first hard climbing stage.

The difficult profile of stage 7 started a brutal four-stage interval that guaranteed eventful racing and a shake-up in the overall classification. Stage 7 was aggressive to the foot of the first climb, the Col du Madelaine, when climber Luc Leblanc started the fireworks. He attacked the peloton early on the climb and by the top of the Madelaine, an elite group of 20 had a 1'35” lead on struggling race leader Stephane Heulot. Miguel Indurain also labored off the back but regained the lead group along the valley road before the second climb of the day.

The shake-up continued over the top of the Cormet de Roseland. Heulot again began to struggle off the back of the peloton. Slowly he rolled to the side of the road and tearfully abandoned the Tour. Heulot, suffering from tendonitis in his right knee, was added to a small list of riders who have abandoned the Tour while wearing the Maillot Jaune. Further up the mountain, Miguel Indurain continued to suffer with the pace but gamely held onto the contender's group.

Over the top of the climb, the rain-slicked road created havoc with chasers. A horrified TV audience witnessed Johan Bruyneel overshoot a narrow turn and plummet off the road, 50 feet down a ravine. Moments later mobile cameramen scrambled to the edge to see Bruyneel climbing back to the road. He frantically looked for his team car and with only superficial bruises, he remounted a new bike and continued the race.

The chase group was in full flight and began to shatter on the final climb, the Les Arcs. Luc Leblanc began to close on Bolts, while the Rominger, Riis and Olano group dropped Indurain. Desperate for fluids, a bonking Big Mig asked the team car for a drink, well within the restricted finishing-zone.

Leblanc passed a fading Bolts and crossed the finish line for 47 second stage win. The chase group of 10 was lead up by Tony Rominger and Evgueni Berzin. The Russian was 11th on the stage and narrowly took the race lead over Abraham Olano, who jumped into second place in the overall classification, 0.16 of a second behind Berzin. Grand champion Indurain finished the stage in 16th place, 4'19” behind Leblanc. Indurain experienced the worst day of his TdF career, but had survived this Black Saturday .

Tired riders had to put aside the drama of the day and concentrate on the 31 km, uphill ITT to Val d'Isere. Race leader Berzin, inspired by the Maillot Jaune and the proclaimed heir apparent to Indurain's throne, extended his overall lead with a 35 second stage win. Telecom's Bjarne Riis finished second on the stage and moved 2 seconds ahead of Olano in the overall classification.

Tour organizers were presented with horrible weather for Monday's stage 9. Winter conditions, heavy snow and high winds, forced race officials to alter the scheduled route of the stage. The heavy, summer snow blocked the road over the Col d'Iseran and rider safety was paramount. The original plan #1 was to move the start to the other side of the mountain and continue with the stage. However, race officials at the new start line received news of 100-kph winds on the Col du Galibier and were forced into Plan #2. The new start was in the small village of Monetier les Bains near the Italian border, only 46 km from the finish in Sestrieres.

After boarding team cars, the Tour caravan left Val d'Isere following snow plows and proceeded over the two, weather blocked mountain passes. Bjarne Riis waste no time in launching his first attack. On the early slopes of the 7 km Montgenevre Pass, Riis slipped away from the peloton and went over the top of the climb 30 seconds ahead of the chasing pack of 15 riders. The inspired Dane held firmly to a 30 second lead as the final climb to Sestrieres began. Riis pushed hard to gain every second and came across the finish line for the stage win. Race leader Berzin struggled at the end of the climb and lost 1'23” to Riis. The Russian passed the Maillot Jaune to Riis as the Tour headed toward the Massif Central region of France.

Surprise leader of the TdF, Bjarne Riis entered the Pyrenees Mountain stage as a realistic winner of the Tour. Any questions that remained were answered on the finishing climb of the Lourdes/Hautacam. Riis used continual surges on the 17.3 km climb to break the peloton apart. Riis' second solo stage win gave him a solid hold on the race. There were only 5 stages to the finish in Paris and Riis held a 2'42” lead on Abraham Olano. A fading Miguel Indurain conceded another 8'30”.

Dane Bjarne Riis stepped into the TdF spotlight in 1996, but the revelation of the race was Telecom teammate Jan Ullrich. In the mountains, Ullrich's strong riding was not only great support for his team leader Riis but it vaulted the 22-year-old German into second place in overall classification.

Bjarne Riis, at the age of 32 celebrates his first TdF victory. His strong teammate Jan Ullrich performed above expectations and finished in second place. He also won the Best Young Rider prize and gained a note as a future champion. Riis's Telecom teammate, sprinter Erik Zabel won his first Maillot Vert (Green points Jersey). Frenchman Richard Virenque won his third Maillot Pois (Polka Dot climber's Jersey) in a row.


Starters: 198

Finishers: 129

Distance: 3,765 km

Average: 39.236 km/h

Green Jersey:

  1. Erik ZABEL (Ger) 335 pts
  2. Frederic Moncassin (Fra) 284 pts
  3. Fabio Baldato (Ita) 255 pts

Polka-Dot Jersey:

  1. Richard VIRENQUE (Fra) 383 pts
  2. Bjarne Riis (Den) 374 pts
  3. Laurent Dufaux (Ita) 176 pts

Team Classification: FESTINA

Combativite :Richard VIRENQUE (Fra)

Young Rider : Jan ULLRICH (Ger)



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