Information traveled at a different pace in 1983. If you were a fan of a fringe sport such as cycling, then you might have to wait a week or two for the news. Such was the case for me and my cycling teammates in the summer of 1983. An American was competing in cycling's World Road Race Championships and he had a legitimate shot at winning. He had already won the Junior World Road Race Championship and spent a few years tearing up the American cycling scene. This was the guy that was going to showcase cycling and bring it out of the shadows of the stick and ball sports. He was fast, gutsy and determined. And when Velo News finally showed up at our local bicycle shop with a smiling, sweaty, fist-pumping Greg LeMond on the cover as he glided under the winner's banner in Altenrhein, Switzerland, it was thrilling. I probably read that story a dozen times.
By the time Greg won the 1986 Tour de France he had won at every level he competed in. If you were a competitive cyclist, you just knew that Greg had many more Tour victories in him. Not only was he a fierce competitor but he was always looking for an edge. At a time when the European bicycle manufacturers would get misty-eyed over the welds in their steel frames, LeMond was showcasing true innovations. Clip-less pedals, tri-bars, aerodynamic helmets, unique frames, and shifter cables tucked into the handlebar's wrap; when LeMond started to use it, everyone did. His training regimen was mind boggling and his love of the sport was unfailing.
In 1989, when he won the Tour by the ridiculous margin of eight seconds I can remember shaking my head in awe. Roughly two years earlier a hunting accident had almost cost him his life and he missed the Tour in '87 and '88. At the beginning of the '89 Tour his goal was a top ten finish yet 22 days later, at the start of the Tour's final stage, a 15.5 mile time trial, he sat an astounding 50 seconds off of the first place rider, Frenchman Laurent Fignon. For Greg to win he would have to make up a minimum of 51 seconds over a very short distance on the number one ranked cyclist in the world, a man with two previous Tour victories to his name. To this day I still cannot fathom the mental strength and intestinal fortitude Greg LeMond summoned up to win the 1989 Tour de France by eight seconds. Neither could Fignon who broke down in tears when he learned of LeMond's victory. Eight seconds. That morning Fignon had already declared himself the winner because the time gap was too great for LeMond to make up. Yet win he did, Greg averaged 34 miles an hour over those 15.5 miles, setting a time trial record that stood until 2005. That December, Sports Illustrated named Greg LeMond their Sportsman of the Year. Greg won the Tour again the following year to cap an amazing career in international cycling.
He eventually became an outspoken critic of cycling's dark side, the unfettered use of performance enhancing drugs and red blood cell manipulation. When Greg called Lance Armstrong on the carpet for his relationship with a known advocate of performance enhancing drugs, Dr. Michelle Ferrari, Greg was rewarded with years of negative press, threats, intimidation, loss of business and lawsuits courtesy Lance and his posse.
I never really cared for Lance. Sure, I was amazed at his performance, but the arrogance he displayed was distasteful and when he went after Greg with such vehemence, I lost what little respect I had for him. Hopefully the sporting press will now return Greg's lost reputation and look back on his performance in the 1989 win as one of the gutsiest in the history of the Tour de France.
As for Lance; in my opinion he's not qualified to wear Greg LeMond's jockstrap.