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In the 1982 race at Goodwood, LeMond and Boyer raced in the same colours but as individuals. In the finale of that race – as LeMond tells it – Boyer chased him down when he attacked, and when Boyer made a move in the closing kilometre, opening a significant gap, it was LeMond who bridged to his fellow American. He took the silver behind Giuseppe Saronni, the first time any American had been in the medals at the Worlds, but his triumph was clouded by the obvious question: might Boyer have taken a medal if LeMond had stayed in the wheels?
“Boyer cried afterward and complained he’d have won if I hadn’t moved on him,” LeMond told Abt. “No way! I was hammered by the press and everyone else: how can you do that to your country...?
I was wearing an American jersey, sure, but there really wasn’t an American team and I definitely wasn’t part of it.”
Sean Kelly, who took bronze, had a slightly more nuanced view. “The USA wasn’t a team in the same way Italy, France or Spain was a team. Jock was doing his thing, and Greg was doing his. Even so, it wasn’t the done thing.”
That controversy gave LeMond an added impetus for 1983, as he said before the race. “That’s why I want to do well tomorrow. For a year I’ve heard tremendous criticism about what happened. If Boyer had been the strongest he would have won, outright. If I was Italian no one would have said anything. We were enemies for two years before that and the race was every man for himself.” LeMond did have one ally in the race: Anderson. They were wearing different jerseys, but according to the writer John Wilcockson, they weren’t going to attack each other. The Australian, who won the Amstel Gold Race earlier that year, and was now recognised as one of the “heads” of the European peloton, infiltrated a mid-race move with LeMond; it was brought back into the fold by the Italian team, who were the force to be reckoned with in every Worlds road race through the 80s. Their defending champion, Saronni, was off form, but the rising star Moreno Argentin was very much in the mix. Anderson then figured in a second,
” I was hammered by the press. I was wearing an American jersey, sure, but there wasn’t an American team and I de initely wasn’t part of it” Greg LeMond
more important move of seven riders, including strong all-rounders in the Dane, Kim Andersen, and the Swiss, Serge Demierre. Critically, however, the Italian in the break was Mario Beccia, a secondstringer. So the squadra gave chase. As the move fell apart, with only Demierre out front, the final manouevres began.
“About 40km to go I foolishly decided to attack at the bottom of the hill,” recalled Philippa York. “There’s always someone who goes at the bottom of the hill and is countered, and that was me. I was running on adrenaline and I’d just punctured and got back on, so I was a bit angry. Halfway up, Greg came past me, going a lot faster than I was going. I just thought, ‘There is no way I’m getting on that wheel.’”
“It was a good moment,” recalled LeMond. “I went past – whoosh! And then Argentin and [Faustino] Rupérez came up.”
At the summit, there was a moment of indecision as LeMond’s trio closed on Demierre, and the chasers behind the trio assessed their chances of bridging to what would be the decisive break. “I looked round and Kelly was on my wheel,” recalled York. “We were about 50 metres off the back of the front group; I could have closed the gap, but I thought I wasn’t going to take Kelly across, and waited for him to close it. But either he was only just good enough to get to me on the climb, and had no more, or he didn’t want to ride because he had Stephen Roche in front. He expected me to do it, but I wasn’t going to kill myself to get Kelly across.”
Demierre was reeled in on the descent and the quartet began the final two laps 26 seconds clear. On the penultimate circuit, the Swiss cracked first, followed by – far more surprisingly – Argentin. Suddenly, the Italian plan fell apart. That left LeMond in front with Rupérez, a strong climber from Soria, in the province of Castilla y León, who had won the Vuelta in 1980. Such was the American’s state of grace that he had the clarity of mind to test the Spaniard on the first ascent, before putting in the killer attack to move clear on the final time up the Wartensee. “Nothing felt tough, not even dropping Rupérez. Everything went just the way I wanted, and I breezed across the line.”
Behind, Rupérez was swept up by an elite chasing group including Adrie van der Poel and Roche, who took silver and bronze, the latter Ireland’s second World Championships medal in two years. A sign of the times, as was the fact that LeMond gained scant recognition back home for his stellar ride. “My only disappointment was that the victory was totally ignored by the American press and public,” he said. “Back home, hardly anyone heard of it. Maybe it got a little paragraph in some papers, maybe not. At that time nobody in the US cared that an American had become world champion.” The bigger picture mattered more though. LeMond had established himself as one of the biggest names in cycling, and the following three years would see him become a dominant force at the Tour de France. He’d win it three times, in 1986, 89 and 1990.
“I was 22 years old and it was as if I’d finally made my mark in cycling,” LeMond said. “The truth is that I’d 10 times rather win the Tour de France than the World Championship, but somehow for pure happiness that World Championship was untouchable.”
LeMond crossed the line alone and more than a minute ahead of the chasers
LeMond won few races in the rainbow jersey in ‘ 84, but he was third at the Tour
LeMond is lanked on the dais by Van der Poel, left, and Ireland’s Stephen Roche