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VN Vault: Inside Luis Herrera’s win at the 1991 Dauphiné-Libéré

One year after disappointing his Café de Colombia team, Luis Herrera returned to the Dauphiné Libéré and won the overall.

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Due to the cancelation of last week’s Colombia Tour 2.1, we have a host of features, interviews, photo galleries, and other stories to celebrate Colombian cycling as part of “Colombia Week.”

When the Colombian rider Luis Herrera performed badly in the 1990 Dauphiné-Libéré stage race, the impact was disastrous for his Café de Colombia teammates: Not only did they fail to earn a coveted wildcard slot at the Tour de France, they would also lose their sponsor by season’s end.

Now, 12 months later, his victory in the difficult 1991 Dauphiné event has seemingly clinched a Tour de France spot for his new Ryalcao-Postobon teammates. Herrera’s tum-about victory — his second since winning in 1988 — was clinched thanks to brilliant climbing form, which took him to a 46-second triumph over Spanish champion Laudelino Cubino (Amaya), and 1:18 over Switzerland’s Tony Rominger (Toshiba).

After an aggressive and successful Tour of Spain, it was felt that the Herrera of the 1980s was back. But those who witnessed his performance at the Dauphine — particularly in the two, decisive Alpine stages — left believing that the current Herrera is better than ever before.

As with the concurrent Giro d’ltalia, the Dauphiné-Libéré provided a last chance for aspiring teams to fight for their place in the July 6-28 Tour de France. And, over the Dauphiné’s eight stages, between Chamonix and Aix-les-Bains, Ryalcao-Postobon and Amaya proved the strongest candidates for two of the five, wild cards.

The Spanish team, Amaya, can thank Cubino’s stage win on stage seven. Cubino and Herrera broke away on the 21 km Mont Revard climb, got a 2:18 lead at the summit, and hurtled down the other side, to finish 2:22 clear of seven chasers, who included America’s Andy Hampsten. But for Amaya — already boasting strong riders like Frenchman Roland Le Clerc and Colombian Fabio Parra — Cubino’s results would certainly be a strong influence in the Tour de France organizers’ decision.

Among the other positive features of the race was Hampsten’s seventh place overall, 5:24 behind Herrera. After his strong showing at Paris-Nice in March, this was the Motorola rider’s best and most consistent result of his season — which was plagued by a month-long bout of flu in April.

Also pleased with his overall performance was Scottish climber Robert Millar (Z), who, while not able to defend his title of 1990, was in all the important attacks and chases — especially in the mountains. And it was only the combined forces of Cubino and Herrera in the penultimate leg, to Aix-les-Bains, which prevented Millar from placing higher than his eventual fourth spot. Others to show good climbing form were the Kelme pair, Martin Farfan and Oliveiro Rincon, who perhaps represent the future of Colombian cycling.

As for the negatives, local favorite Charly Mottet was a huge disappointment. After winning the Four Days of Dunkirk and then the inaugural Classique des Alpes, much was expected from the top-ranked French pro. And in a race sponsored by the regional newspaper of his sponsor, the Grenoble-based RMO employment agency, there was tremendous pressure on him to win the Dauphiné for a third time.

That pressure took its toll on Mottet during the sixth stage, from Crest to Villard-de-Lans, where he exploded and fell out of overall contention. It was also this stage that saw Rominger — who’d been in contention since placing second in the prologue — take the leader’s yellow-and-blue-banded jersey from Mottet’s French teammate, Pascal Lino, who himself had ended the three-day reign as leader of compatriot Thierry Marie (Castorama).

Another rider to provoke questions about his form was Irishman Stephen Roche. The Tonton Tapis leader, stilt awaiting for a Tour de France place himself, didn’t even bother trying to contest the two Alpine battles. He spent several days training in the Alps before the race and was expected to fare strongly; but tendinitis in his right shoulder — from “doing pushups” — grew too painful.

“I just couldn’t pull on the handlebars,” commented a disappointed Roche.

For Motorola, Hampsten’s good showing was a pleasant consolation following the team’s earlier disappointment of losing Michael Carter, because of a tom thigh muscle. Carter, after racing strongly in the Tour de Romandie and the Classique des Alpes, dropped out during stage four.

After taking fifth place to Cubino on the seventh stage, Hampsten told VeloNews:

“After the spring being like it was, this result came at the right time. It’s nice to see some development in my training program with our team doctor Massimo Testa. On stage one of the Tour de Romandie, I was dropped and finished about 80th. Look at this result now, three weeks later …. ”

Motorola had further good news from its English team member Sean Yates, who came up with a victory on stage five. That win, his second of the year (following a minor success in Norway}, was totally unexpected. On the stage into Orange, the strapping British rider was leading the peloton into an expected field sprint, with 300 meters to go, under a downpour of rain. Then, as the bunch took a right-hand tum, the fancied Belgian sprinter, Johan Museeuw (Lotto-Superclub) — who was on Yates’s wheel — slipped and took Frenchman Laurent Jalabert (Toshiba) down with him.

“I never expected that,” said Yates later. “But I heard the crash and quickly realized I had the gap. So I put my head down and won.”

But Yates wasn’t quite as strong in the time trials. He could finish only 10th in the 10km prologue at Chamonix, where Marie had the fortune to set his winning performance under clear skies, while the other favorites encountered a thundershower. In the circumstances, second-placed Rominger did well to lose only 18 seconds.

But the final, undulating, 33km race against the clock, at Aix-les-Bains, confirmed Rominger’s status as one of the sport’s best time trialists. It was here that Rominger had to make up 2:08 on Herrera if the Swiss rider wanted to win. And while he gained only 50 seconds on a remarkable, third-placed Herrera, his 34-second victory margin over Viatcheslav Ekimov (Panasonic-Sportlife) was one to savor.