Miguel Indurain is part of a very exclusive club of riders, not only with his five Tour de France wins, but with a brace that include the Giro-Tour double in the same season.
The man known by Spaniards as ‘Miguelon’ was one of the few riders in the modern era to have pulled off this remarkable sporting feat, in 1992 and 1993. For all that those were different times, the approach and challenge of racing to win the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in the same summer remains the same in many respects.
In recent seasons those riders bold enough to attempt the Giro-Tour double have floundered, whether Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador, Thibaut Pinot, Vincenzo Nibali, the physical and mental challenge presented by racing back-to-back Grand Tours for the general classification is enormous.
“The first time I went, both times in fact, were my decision,” recalls Indurain today. “At that time the Vuelta was run in April and it was always too early and too cold for me, so we looked at the Giro as an option, because it was important for me to do two Grand Tours in a year.
“The first time I went it wasn’t so much with the intention of winning as seeing how I would perform. Obviously the idea was to be competitive, I wasn’t planning to go to Italy and just ride round, but I wasn’t fixated on winning.
“As the race wore on though, I felt better and better and going into the third week, I was in a good position.” 25 years after his Grand Tour heyday, the 52 year old Spaniard is as calm and matter-of-fact as ever, though he smiles and laughs more readily now that the pressures of racing have long gone.
“Although I hadn’t ridden the Giro before, the team had raced there with Pedro Delgado in 1988 and they knew what to expect, it was a good, strong team and I had already won the Tour the previous year, so we were an experienced group.
“When it comes to Chris Froome in 2018, I think that is important for him too. He knows how to win a Grand Tour and so does the team around him. So even if he hasn’t raced the Giro for a while, he knows what it takes to win. Overall though, I’m sure it will be the same for him as it was for me – you have to pay attention to all the details.”
In an era where attention to those details has never been greater, much has been made of the importance of riders’ recovery, whether between stages or, in this case, Grand Tours.
“I’m not sure that psychology plays that much of a part in respect of recovery between the Giro and the Tour,” demurs Indurain. “Between the two races I took a few days off but I still trained and I raced too, though not at the front, not to win, just to spin my legs.
“One year I took it easier than the other because what you do in training between the two races will depend a lot on how hard the final week of the Giro is and, of course, how hard the start of the Tour is. Those factors determine whether or not you need to be going well from the start of the Tour or not or whether you can come into the Tour and ride into form. In fact, that’s important with the Giro too.
“If the hardest stages are in the final week then you can afford to ride into form a bit more and have an effect on what you do between the Giro and the Tour, train or rest more.”
The composition of both races – how many time trials there are, where they are in the race, how long they are, where are the hardest mountain stages – all feed into the preparation of a rider aiming to win the Giro and the Tour in the same season.
Make no mistake though, for Indurain – and, you strongly suspect, for Froome – the Giro will forever be the anti-pasto.
“There’s no question,” smiles Indurain, “for as long as you are capable of winning the Tour, the Tour is always the focus. Always!”
Rouleur met with Miguel Indurain at an Assos promotional event to celebrate the upcoming launch of a new jersey.