PARIS -- This was supposed to go down in the history books as a spectacular win for Miguel Indurain in the Tour de France -- making him the only rider to capture the race five times in a row. But it will be remembered for another reason, too: as the year a rider crashed and died.
The death last Tuesday of Italy's Fabio Casartelli seemed to suck all the pomp and circumstance out of the 82-year-old race that has become known as the most prestigious cycling event in the world.
But the Tour did retain enough pageantry yesterday for thousands of spectators to line the Champs-Elysees and welcome the racers who had been riding about 100 miles every day for the past three weeks.
And leave it to Djamolidin Abdoujaparov to finish with a flourish. In 1991, his mad dash toward the line ended in a crash and he had to walk his bike over the finish. But in 1993 he was victorious, and he repeated that win yesterday.
But it is Indurain, 31, who has a prime piece of real estate on the podium here and doesn't seem willing to part with it. He's had it so long that it's almost hard to remember that Greg LeMond was there the two years before Indurain.
Over the past three weeks, Indurain rode the almost 2,200 miles in a cumulative time of 92 hours 44 minutes 59 seconds. His nearest competitor, Switzerland's Alex Zulle, was four minutes back. But many were grouped at an hour or even two behind the leader, with the last 10 finishers more than three hours back. Only 115 of the 189 riders who started the race made it to Paris.
Indurain was awarded 2,200,200 francs (about $455,440 American) for the win, plus bonuses for each day he wore the yellow jersey or won a stage, all of which will be shared with his Banesto team. Cash prizes also went to Laurent Jalabert for being the best sprinter and Richard Virenque as best climber.
And even though the American-based Motorola team had Lance Armstrong's stage win to boast about, it didn't feel much like rejoicing.
"It's been very emotional, all ups and downs," said Motorola director Hennie Kuiper, referring to the death of team member Casartelli. Armstrong's win on Friday, he said, "helped us, but you don't know what to do. We wanted to celebrate, but not that much. We decided to have some champagne, but just half a glass."
The race began in the northwest corner of France July 1 with a prologue time trial that perhaps was ominous. Chris Boardman of Britain crashed and was out of the Tour before it had even officially begun.
The overall lead switched hands six times in the first week, but that didn't seem to concern Indurain. He won the individual time trial two weeks ago, donned the leader's yellow jersey and never gave it up.
Indurain, who is a formidable time trialer, proved he was just as tough in the mountains. Although he never won any of the stages in the Alps or Pyrenees, he never let the leader ride very far out of his view.
And being an all-around rider, he pointed out, is exactly what it takes to be a Tour champion.
"The first weekend, I attacked a little bit, and of course in the time trials I was there as expected, and in the mountains I tried to be among the top three."
He made the feat sound so easy, and, even though there have been three five-time winners of the Tour (Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault), no one has ever taken it five successive times.
Still, Indurain said it's too early to start thinking about an unprecedented sixth Tour win.
"First I want to enjoy this one, then take a rest," he said. "Then I will start thinking about next year. But my season's not over yet, there are a lot of good races in Spain and I want to prepare for the Worlds, but no decision has been made."
Indurain could not deny that Casartelli's death was a blow to every rider in the Tour.
"It's still a heavy burden, and for the last week everybody was feeling the pressure of it," he said.