Team spokesman Paul Sherwen said he had been told by a Tour doctor, Gerard Porte, that Casartelli's injuries would have been fatal whether or not he had been wearing a helmet. "But," added Sherwen, "that's just one opinion." Racers must wear helmets in the U.S. and in some European countries, but not in France. When the Tour tried to force riders to wear headgear several years ago, the cyclists simply refused. The issue faded away, and it was resurrected by the death of a rider—albeit the first one as the result of a crash in 60 years.
If the homage to Casartelli helped the riders bring their mourning period to a close, it also closed out any chance for Zülle and his ONCE team to catch Induráin, who rides for Banesto. The uncontested stage on July 19 featured three nasty climbs in the Pyrenees interspersed with long flats—ideal terrain for ONCE to have launched assaults on the champion. Yet Zülle and his teammates were in the forefront of those who wanted to ride for Casartelli.
Zülle had been the last obstacle on Induráin's radar. One by one the contenders had taken runs at him; one by one they had been calmly dispatched. Induráin's main challenger coming into the race was thought to have been Tony Rominger of Switzerland, but Rominger fizzled early, his fade attributed by some to his decision to ride hard in the Giro D'Italia, a three-week race that ended in early June.
Induráin, by comparison, coasts unapologetically through the early season in order to peak in France. This is the main criticism that has been leveled against him by Merckx, who along with Hinault does for cycling what Jim Brown and Wilt Chamberlain do for their former sports in the U.S.: take potshots at those with the temerity to threaten their records.
If Merckx was "the Cannibal," devouring everyone in front of him, Induráin is "the Boa," winning Tours by patiently squeezing the hope out of his foes. Says Bauer, "Miguel tends to just lets things fall into place, and then, when it's his moment, boom!"
The late afternoon of July 8 did not look like Induráin's moment. A lull seemed to have fallen over the Tour. With a time trial, his specialty, coming the next day, surely Induráin would be husbanding his energy in the final stretch of the seventh stage, a 203-kilometer roller coaster from Charleroi through the Belgian Ardennes to Liège.
But as the pack neared the summit of the day's penultimate climb, a sharp ascent up Mont Theux, Induráin took the 1995 Tour by the throat. "People talk about his heart and lungs," says Bauer, "but he's pretty smart, too. If he sees you're out of place or suffering, he'll turn the screws."
Sensing the complacency of the pack, Big Mig simply powered away from it. Tucked away in Induráin's slipstream was ONCE's Johan Bruyneel, whose eventual victory in the stage was itself a tribute to Induráin. Bruyneel refused to take his turn at the front, letting Induráin do all the work until very near the end.
Among the riders who were served a helping of Induráin's dust that day was Armstrong. "He just rode me off his wheel," marveled the former triathlete from Austin. "Nobody's going to touch him. He's superhuman."
If the future of American cycling sounded a tad forlorn, he had his reasons. Armstrong was still looking for his second Tour de France stage win in an uneven three-year pro career.