Greg LeMond: The Making of a Tour de France Champion

In this extract from Slaying the Badger, Richard Moore writes about how a young Greg LeMond harboured dreams of winning the Tour de France.

Greg Lemond leading Laurent Fignon over the top of Col de la Croix Fer in the 1989 Tour de France. Photo: Steve Selwood

Greg Lemond leads Laurent Fignon over the top of Col de la Croix Fer in the 1989 Tour de France. Fignon went on to take the Yellow Jersey on the climb to Alpe d'Huez. The Tour came down to the final time trial in Paris, where LeMond won the 1989 Tour de Franc by just 8 seconds. Photo: Steve Selwood

Though LeMond had talent to burn, it is important not to overlook other helpful factors, the web of advantages and inheritances, for example, that played in LeMond’s favour, gently encouraging and cajoling him along the path to greatness. In this respect, the American journalist Owen Mulholland unwittingly offers a description of LeMond as an outlier in the Gladwell mould: ‘LeMond had bridges. Parental help didn’t hurt. Loving the activity helped. Being recognised by a small circle as particularly talented was a boost. All things considered, being in the right place at the right time with that kind of potential put Greg right where he needed to be to break out of the American bubble and onto the stage of world cycling.’

As well as enjoying cycling for cycling’s sake – as LeMond, the outdoors lover, clearly did – he was seduced by the exotic world of professional cycle racing. Through magazines he learned about European racing – the Grand Tours: Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España; the single-day Classics: Paris–Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, Milan–San Remo. He read about Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, the maillot jaune, and thus he began to learn the language of a sport rooted firmly in mainland Europe. As one of LeMond’s contemporaries, Kent Gordis, would tell Sam Abt, ‘at that time cycling in America was like a secret society . . . You could buy three-month-old copies of Miroir du Cyclisme at the French-American bookshop in San Francisco. You know how kids find names like “Bali” or “Tahiti” exotic? We found all those unpronouncable Flemish names in Miroir exotic. We would amuse ourselves by repeating the names to each other.’

When LeMond and his young American teammates finally ventured to Europe to race, touching down in Switzerland in 1978, it was ‘not just a trip abroad; it was attaining some sort of exalted state.’ On that trip, incidentally, LeMond had his first sight of the Tour de France – the one, of course, that gave Hinault his first victory, on the stage from Grenoble to Morzine, three days before Hinault took yellow.

‘We rode from Geneva to the Joux-Plane,’ recalled LeMond. ‘We were able to watch the Tour go past from [the former champion skier] Jean-Claude Killy’s chalet. When I saw it, I thought: that’s what I want to do.’

In fact, it only confirmed it. The previous winter, 1977–78, LeMond had listed a set of goals on a yellow pad of paper (which he still has in his possession, somewhere – he says he remains as domestically disorganised as in the days when he trained with Anderson). It read as follows:

1. Place well for experience in the 1978 junior world championships.
2. Win the 1979 junior world championship.
3. Win the 1980 Olympic road race in Moscow.
4. Win the world professional championships by the age of twenty-two or twenty-three.
5. Win a first Tour de France by the age of twenty-four or twenty-five.

Slaying the Badger

Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France by Richard Moore is out now.

 

 

 

 

 

Read more from Slaying the Badger

The 1986 Tour de France: LeMond v Hinault


Read more Tour de France book extracts

A Race for Madmen: The birth of the Tour de France
A Race for Madmen: The first-ever Tour de France
A Race for Madmen: The birth of the famous Yellow Jersey
A Race for Madmen: The Tour de France goes into the mountains

 

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