Greg LeMond, a cycling champion who never gave up

If your willpower overcomes your fears, it is always possibile to be reborn after the worst injuries.

Ask Greg LeMond, the American cycling champion who, although he had faced the death when he was at the peak of his career, succeed to win again and better than before.

Born in 1961, LeMond has been the first American to have won the Tour de France and is easily the most physically talented rider since Fausto Coppi.

He was a complete rider: he could climb with the best, roll the big gear and sprint. He was said also to be one of the most skilled and daring descenders the sport has ever seen.

Almost from the moment Greg LeMond first turned a bicycle pedal he began winning races, becoming America’s dominant intermediate and then junior rider. LeMond was twice Junior American Road Champion and 1979 Junior World Road Champion. While still a junior he regularly raced against and beat senior men.

He signed his first professional contract to ride in 1981, but finally he took the plunge riding with Bernard Hinault for Bernard Tapie’s La Vie Claire squad in 1985, being the second banana to Hinault.

After LeMond had made the sacrifice of a lifetime and allowed Hinault to win his fifth Tour, Hinault promised to help LeMond win the Tour in 1986. That didn’t happen. In fact, between LeMond’s bad luck, his flat-footed tactical awareness and Hinault’s constant attacks, LeMond’s  victory in 1986 Tour was was one of racing’s most exciting ever.

But the spring of the 1987 marked his life: LeMond was accidentally wounded by his brother-in-law by a 12-gauge in a hunting trip in California.

“I have got 5 pellets in my heart, five in my liver: it totally changed me. I took 40 pellets and my right lung was collapsing.” as LeMond himself said during an interview.

At first the near-fatal accidental shotgun left LeMond without any hope to start riding again.

“The funny thing is that in my ’86 I was really on the top of this sport, I was just getting to the prime of my career. I supposed to be off my bike for four months. Everybody assumed that this accident was a minor one.”

It was also a big trouble for his own career beacause after the terrible injury no cycling team was willing to propose a contract for him.

“They said me that I had to find myself another team. I had another surgery in July for an intestinal block that was a complication. My dad was in Europe negotiating with the only team that would have really taken me with the requirement of returning to racing by the end of the year.”

The first hint that his comeback might be successful was his second place in the final time trial of the 1989 Giro d’Italia. This is the reason why Guimard, the main LeMond’s opponent, expected LeMond to be a serious challenger in the Tour.

In the 1989 Tour Fignon and LeMond brawled day after day. They were almost identical in ability, Fignon a slightly better climber, LeMond the superior time trialist. Going into the final stage, a 24.5 km time trial into Paris, after a breathless duel with Lauren Fignon, LeMond thumped a giant gear to win the stage and the 1989 Tour. His eight-second overall winning margin remains the closest in Tour history.

Then, for the first time in his career,  LeMond rode for a first-class team in 1990, Z, that would give him complete support. Despite letting a break with Claudio Chiappucci scoot away with a nine and a half minute margin, LeMond won his third Tour.

LeMond raced until 1994, LeMond became a huge anti-doping advocate, who was the first some doubts regarding Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France success.

Nowadays, with both Armstrong and Floyd Landis stripped of their Tour de France titles, Greg LeMond is, thanks to his determination, the only American to have won the Tour de France.

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2018-09-06T12:54:07+00:00 September 6th, 2018|