“The future’s name is Cubino.” At 25 years old, Laudelino Cubino had most of the Spanish eyes on him as he flew through the Pyrénées in the 1988 Volta a Catalunya, the 68th edition of cycling’s fourth oldest stage race.
The young climber was, indeed, a special talent, as the Spanish press highlighted at the time. But his injury-plagued career didn’t live up to the high expectations laid upon him in the late 1980s when Spanish riders were launching a new era of success, a few weeks after Pedro Delgado had won the Tour de France (the Volta was ridden in September back then).
Cubino wasn’t the future of cycling and he wasn’t the winner of the 1988 Volta either. Riding for the BH team, he was flamboyant in the queen stage, leading to Super Espot ski resort, but eventually had to settle for second overall.
As the peloton arrived in Lleida, Miguel Indurain was to celebrate success. The colossus from Villava had just claimed his biggest victory to date, three years before claiming the first of his record five Tour de France triumphs.
Not many saw such huge potential in him at the time. But the 1988 Volta a Catalunya had laid it out for all to see.
The pre-race favourites: Delgado, Parra, Lejarreta…
One year younger than Cubino, “Miguelon” was already at the end of his fourth professional season in September 1988. He had established himself as a superb time trialist but was still to offer the same consistency in the mountains.
His 1988 season was a bit of disappointment, he acknowledged himself, although he had provided precious support to his Reynolds leader Pedro Delgado in the Tour. “I had several issues during the Vuelta a España [ridden in April and May] and I lost my shape”, he said at the end of the Volta. “It’s good to finish on a high note winning a race as prestigious as the Volta a Catalunya but 1988 hasn’t given me the joys I was hoping for.”
At the start, Indurain wasn’t among the biggest names to watch; he was again due to ride in support of Delgado. Their Spanish compatriot Pepe Recio (Kelme), winner of the 1983 Volta, gave an overview to the newspaper Mundo Deportivo: “My favorites are Fabio Parra [3rd in the 1988 Tour de France], Marino Lejarreta [winner of the Volta in 1980 and the Vuelta a España in 1982] and Delgado. I agree with Alvaro Pino [winner of the 1982 Vuelta and 1986 Volta], it’s an easier route than in 1987 but we have to see how hard Super Espot is. I don’t know this climb and it could be the decision maker with the TT the next day in Tremp.”
Unshakeable in the mountains, dominant in the TT
The first stage, a 156.8km ride around Salou, was quite uneventful. The bunch suffered from the summer heat on the Catalonian coast and the Dutchman Mathieu Hermans dominated the mass gallop on the seafront. The race stuck to the coast on stage 2 and Alfonso Gutierrez won the sprint in Sant Joan Despi.
Day 3 was divided in two parts, a 16.8km team time trial dominated by Franco Ballerini’s Del Tongo-Colnago and another success for the Italian team in the afternoon, as Poland’s Czesław Lang (now Director of the Tour de Pologne) narrowly edged the peloton in Platja d’Aro.
On day 4 the first climbing challenges lying ahead of the riders allowed Indurain to take 11 seconds from most of his rivals as he escaped with Miguel Angel Iglesias (stage winner) and Pepe Recio (3rd). Ballerini was only 1 second away from Indurain with two days to go.
“We’re controlling the race,” Laudelino Cubino stated ahead of the queen stage. And he went on to drop all his rivals in the climb to Super Espot to take the leader’s jersey. Only losing a mere 20” as he finished in the first chase group with Lejarreta and Pino, Indurain offered one of his best climbing performances to date, finishing ahead of his team captain Delgado.
Indurain went on to win the individual time trial on day 6, 25” ahead of Cubino. Enough to grant him his biggest victory at the time, but not to inflate his ambitions: “Because of my height and my weight, I’ll never do well [in the high mountains]. But my improvements in the mid-mountains are obvious. I’ve learned to suffer, which is fundamental to climb well.”
Not even Indurain knew at the time he was the future of cycling.