Miguel Indurain: The cyclist 'from another planet'

Updated 12:26 PM ET, Mon September 4, 2017

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(CNN)Hunched over his handlebars, posterior on seat and barely a grimace on his face, the image of Miguel Indurain eating up the road before him became the iconic image of cycling in the early 1990s.

The Spaniard won the Tour de France five times in row -- the only man in history to do so -- between 1991 and 1995 to cement his place among the legends of his sport.
For all the accolades and adulation Indurain drew as an athlete, Indurain the man never changed. He remained humble and private, despite transcending his sport and changing the perception of cycling in Spain.
Oscar Pereiro, a fellow Spanish cyclist and himself a Tour de France winner in 2006 -- the Spaniard inherited the 2006 title after original winner Floyd Landis was disqualified for doping -- has got to know Indurain well in the years since the pair retired.
Indurain put an end to his professional cycling career four years before Pereiro began his, leaving an indelible mark on the up-and-coming rider's generation.
"For me, truly, Miguel Indurain is one of the greatest Spanish athletes in history," Pereiro tells CNN.
"Not only as a person and as an athlete, but what he did for sport in Spain, the moment in which he did it, the way his which he did it and the way he expresses himself.
"I've had the great fortune of spending a lot of time with him and every day I still see him as a person from another planet. He's someone who transmits more than the values he had as a cyclist."
Miguel Indurain, pictured in the yellow jersey, is shown competing in the 1995 Tour de France.
Commentators have often described Indurain as a quiet man which, most of the time, played into his favor and enhanced his image as a daunting and complex opponent for his rivals.
On other occasions, however, it's sometimes suggested Indurain's own team would struggle to understand his daily needs, such was his lack of communication.
Pereiro admits that previous guesses at Indurain's character may have been on the mark, but also reveals a side to the man which was kept hidden from the public eye.
"It's possible that they speak correctly about him," Pereiro says. "But he's quite chatty about cycling, he can have his own shyness but he also makes jokes, he knows how to have a laugh, he also knows how to be very close.
"I don't know what some interviews attribute to him but eating with him, riding bikes with him is very pleasant.
    "Now we've both retired, we go riding together and I confirm everything they say. He's a great person all round and very warm. I still have such admiration for Miguel Indurain that I think back to the impact he had on me."
    Indurain, again pictured in yellow, secured five consecutive Tour de France victories.
    Since Indurain retired, no man has been able to match his record of five consecutive Tour de France victories, nor his record of winning the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France back-to-back for two years running.
    For a man who did so much for Spain and cycling, it seems almost cruely ironic that the only Grand Tour he never won was the one in his homeland: La Vuelta, the grand tour of Spain.
    La Vuelta in 1996 also proved a watershed moment for Indurain in helping make his mind up to call time on his career.
    Indurain's nicknaame was 'Miguelon' ("Big Mig").
    He was persuaded to race that year in his national tour -- the first time he'd competed in La Vuelta since 1991 -- having come second in the Tour de France, only to be painfully dropped on the steep Fito pass.
    "In the end, it was all a matter of faith, of wanting to believe that what had happened in the Tour was no more than a temporary loss of form," wrote Carlos Arribas in El Pais.
    "That the improbable challenge of riding and winning the Vuelta in September would be feasible for him by a mere act of will, despite the fact that he'd always restricted his best form to three months of the year."
        And four months later -- on January 1 1997 -- Indurain annouced his retirement.