Greg Le­mond

Procycling - - Rider Diaries -

26 June 1961 Amer­ica’s great­est ever cy­clist? Who else is there?

It feels as though Greg Le­Mond has now been tub-thump­ing for trans­parency, for an­ti­dop­ing gen­er­ally, and against Lance Arm­strong specif­i­cally, for decades now. As a re­sult, it’s easy to lose sight of his ex­ploits as a rider and of the pro­found ef­fect that he had on the sport.

Le­Mond’s ex­trav­a­gant tal­ent was never in doubt but the im­pact he made in his de­but Euro­pean sea­son, that of 1981, was truly ex­tra­or­di­nary. Here was a teenage boy – from Amer­ica of all places – fin­ish­ing fourth at the Dauphiné Libéré. That he did so with Cyril Guimard’s Re­nault, the old con­ti­nent archetype, pre­saged the huge changes which his bril­liance would usher in.

Within two years he was world cham­pion and one of the most in­flu­en­tial rid­ers in the pelo­ton. Fol­low­ing a podium fin­ish at the Tour in 1984, he be­came the hottest prop­erty in cy­cling. Bernard Tapie, the owner of La Vie Claire, was con­vinced that Le­Mond had what it took to prize open the pre­vi­ously un­tapped Amer­i­can mar­ket, and is re­puted to have of­fered him cy­cling’s first $1mil­lion con­tract. Le­Mond then rode in support of the old lion Bernard Hin­ault at the 1985 Tour be­fore as­cend­ing to the very top of the sport.

While the Arm­strong story may be char­ac­terised as Hol­ly­wood in re­verse, Le­Mond’s re­ally is pure Tinseltown. He dis­placed Hin­ault to win the 1986 Tour but then his brother-in-law ac­ci­den­tally blasted him with a shot­gun while out hunt­ing the fol­low­ing spring. He lost 65 per cent of his blood – and with it very nearly his life – but by 1989 Le­Mond was a Tour win­ner once more, de­spite the 35 lead pel­lets still in his body. What’s more, his fi­nal- day time trial duel with Lau­rent Fignon is now cel­e­brated as one of the Tour’s most fa­mous mo­ments. The eight-sec­ond mar­gin re­mains the clos­est ever fin­ish and Le­Mond’s elated re­ac­tion has be­come one of the most iconic Tour images. Another World Cham­pi­onship ti­tle fol­lowed, then he rub­ber- stamped his great­ness with a third Tour win in 1990.

As EPO started to pro­lif­er­ate, his pow­ers waned but Greg Le­Mond was a gen­uine great. So abun­dant was his com­mer­cial value that the ben­e­fits trick­led down to the mor­tals of the pelo­ton as the sport fi­nally be­gan to treat them with a sem­blance of re­spect. He also planted bike rac­ing into his coun­try­men’s col­lec­tive headspace and his in­flu­ence, like the mem­ory of his bril­liance on the bike, burns as brightly as ever.

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