Miguel Indurain knows his cycling career has been brilliant. What's left is to add extra luster, which he fully expects to do by winning the Tour de France for an unprecedented sixth straight time.
"To win the Tour once is to make history. I'm here to continue my streak," the Spaniard said Friday in this small southern Dutch town, where the grueling three-week event starts this year.The man known as "Big Mig" has turned the sport's most prestigious event into his personal domain, though a stiff challenge may be expected from rivals such as world No. 1 Laurent Jalabert of France and his onetime teammate, Alex Zulle of Switzerland, last year's Tour runner-up.
Den Bosch hosts Saturday's 5.8-mile prologue, in which Indurain will challenge Olympic pursuit champion Chris Boardman and 1994 Tour of Italy winner Yevgeny Berzin for top honors.
The historic cathedral town also is the site of Sunday's 129.6-mile first stage, and the start of Monday's second, which will take the riders out of the Netherlands, through Belgium and into France.
When the cyclists cross the Tour finish line on the Champs Elysees in Paris, they will have completed 21 stages totaling 2,418 miles, with portions of the route also in Italy and Spain - where the route passes by Indurain's Pamplona home to mark his 32nd birthday.
The Spaniard's strategy in taking the past five Tours - equaling the career record held by Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil and Belgium's Eddy Merckx - has generally been to stay close in the mountain passes and exploit his tremendous time-trial abilities to put minutes between himself and the others.
Only Indurain has won five Tours in succession.
The first long race against the clock this year is the eighth stage, on July 7, an 18.9-mile trek uphill to the Alpine resort of Val d'Isere.
It will be preceded by one day in the Alps and followed by two more, before the lone rest day July 10. That treacherous portion of the Tour will be the key, Indurain said.
"All the stages are crucial, but the three days in the Alps are where someone can win the Tour, or if not win, then at least gain a lead," he said.
The Spanish rider surprised his opponents last year by attacking during a relatively flat leg ahead of the second time trial on the race's next-to-last day.
Among those who seem resigned to watching Indurain cross the finish line on the Champs Elysees with arms raised in triumph yet again is Lance Armstrong of the United States, one member of the sport's younger generation who figures to supplant the Spaniard someday.
Armstrong, the 1993 world road champion, has two individual Tour stage victories to his credit and has won the Tour DuPont - the top stage race in the U.S. - the past two years.