Miguel Indurain, who dominated the opposition for 10 days up the mountains and over the plains, cruised to victory in the Tour de France on Sunday as fans waved Spanish flags on the Champs Elysees. Indurain, who never finished better than 10th previously in the cycling race, entered the final stage with a lead of more than three minutes. Only a catastrophe could have deprived him of the title.
"It's a tremendous relief," Indurain said. "For several days, I knew I was going to win, but you're never safe from an accident."
Indurain's winning time in the 22 stage race was 101 hours, 1 minute, 20 seconds.
Greg LeMond, the 1990 winner and three-time champion, came in seventh, 13:13 back after he failed in a bid to win the final stage.
Indurain, 27, became the fourth Spaniard to win the Tour de France. He joins Pedro Delgado (1988), Luis Ocana (1973) and Federico Bahamontes (1959).
"This last stage went as smoothly as possible," Indurain said. "Everybody was relaxed I'll be back next year to win."
Indurain held the lead from the 13th stage on July 19, won two time trials and came in second in the two tough mountain stages.
Two Italians followed: Gianni Bugno in second, 3:36 behind; and 1990 runner-up, Claudio Chiappucci, in third, 5:56 back.
Dmitri Konyshev won the final stage in a sprint that saw another Soviet, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, crash less than 100 meters from the finish after hitting a barrier.
Abdoujaparov, who won the first and fourth stages, brought down at least two other riders with him, as the pack was grouped behind the sprinters. Doctors said he was bruised but not seriously injured.
Until the last stretch it was an easy 111-mile ride from Melun to Paris that ended with six trips up and down the Champs Elysees.
Indurain was cheered by more than 100,000 fans, including a group of more than 200 students from Spain, painted in the national colors of red and yellow. Each time he passed, they waved Spanish flags and yelled "Vamos (Let's go), Indurain."
LeMond had his worst finish in his six Tour de France appearances. He was third in 1984, second in 1985 and won in 1986, 1989 and 1990. He missed the 1987 and 1988 Tours when he was recovering from injuries.
He led for five stages early in the Tour but faltered in the mountains, slowed by a viral infection and sore feet.
"Everybody in the pack was not going to give me a gift in the Tour de France," LeMond said. "Most of the people were racing against me. It's a natural thing; I won the TDF three times. I took a great lead in the first stage. I was the man to beat."
Indurain took over the lead and held a comfortable cushion through the final week.
LeMond said he will be back in 1992 to battle Indurain to regain the title.
"I still am going to come to the Tour de France next year as the man to beat, with Indurain," LeMond said. "As long as I'm racing, I'm going to come every time to the Tour with the intention of winning it."
LeMond tried to win the final stage, breaking ahead midway through and building up more than a minute advantage as he entered the Champs Elysees to the cheering throng.
The pack increased its pace to catch him, and it became a race for the sprinters, led by two of the best, Konyshev and Abdoujaparov.
Abdoujaparov, his head down, swerved into the barrier and took a hard fall as other riders catapulted over him.
Indurain entered his first Tour de France in 1985, quitting after the fourth stage. He completed the race for the first time in 1987, finishing 97th. He improved to 47th in 1988 and then placed 10th last year.
Year Winner Country
1991 Miguel Indurain Spain
1990 Greg LeMond United States
1989 Greg LeMond United States
1988 Pedro Delgado Spain
1987 Stephen Roche Ireland
1986 Greg LeMond United States
1985 Bernard Hinault France
1984 Laurent Fignon France
1983 Laurent Fignon France
1982 Bernard Hinault France
1981 Bernard Hinault France