June 03, 2017

We mostly remember him for that time trial and an incredible comeback.  It's 1989, the final stage of the Tour de France and the man in second place has defied the odds to be there.  Injury, illness and a hunting accident seemed to end an extraordinary career for the first ever American winner of the Tour de France in 1986 - but here he was, in form and in contention.  Greg Lemond broke new ground that day, coming from behind to win the Tour and vanquish Laurent Fignon in 24k from the palace of Le Roi Soleil, Versailles.  It was one heck of a tour to watch and those of us of a certain vintage and cycling mania remember it the same way some talk of the first steps on the moon.

It was not the first or the last time that Lemond changed the world of cycling though, and we have much to thank him for.  When a wunderkind stepped off a plane in 1981 to join the Renault Elf team, the leading team of the day managed by master coach Cyrille Guimard and led by Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, the cycling world took a first step to the global pro juggernaut it is today.  As well as being an extraordinary talent, Lemond was innovative, inquisitive and not ashamed to look for a fair wage for his work.

This combination was a perfect match with French businessman Bernard Tapie and in 1984 Lemond become the first million dollar man with a contract to the young La Vie Claire team.  The team broke new ground in many ways, from it's equipment (think the very first clipless pedal to penetrate the peloton) and not least its stunning new jersey design that broke the mould.  Lemond joined Hinault, the Badger, at the team and the stage was set for a drama worthy of House of Cards. 

 

After helping Hinault to a tough victory in 1985 and with promises of support for 1986, Lemond and Hinault tore the race and their own team apart in 1986 as both raced for the win.  The spoils went to Lemond after a bitter duel through the Pyrenees  and the Alps and the media were given the story of a lifetime.

Lemond was not to return to the tour until 1989 after a hunting accident and his win there was again the stuff of legend.  Not only for the incredible comeback but for the innovation of aero bars that turned accepted wisdom on its head and may just have meant the difference between first and second.

The miracle continued with a second win at the 1989 World Championships and Lemond was firmly established as not only the greatest American rider ever but one of the pantheon of gods of the sport.

A new team and another ground breaking contract and series of innovations were to follow.  Who can forget the Z jersey!

The 1990 Tour was to be his last great victory, but Lemond's impact continues to this day.  Passionate about the sport, recreation and lifestyle of cycling, and probably a victim of the tainted and muddy era of drugs that entered all sports in the 90's, Lemond was often a voice in the wilderness in a dark time.  Vindicated and embraced now, Lemond is back at the Tour, back centre stage as an elder statesman and our sport is all the better for it.

 

 

 


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