I love the Tour, it’s one of the greatest sporting events anywhere. It is a crazy festival of sport and speculation. The Tour has been racked by doping the last few years, which is unfortunate. I suppose doping has been a part of processional cycling for decades, but nothing like it’s been that last ten years.
I became a fan of the Tour, however, in the 1980s when Greg LeMond was the great American hopeful and doping was a minor issue. LeMond, the first American to even win a tour de France, eventually won three Tours.
The 1986 Tour de France was LeMond’s first win. Here LeMond races with his teammate Bernard Hinault (five-time winner of the Tour and one of my cycling heroes) up the infamous Alpe d’Huez:
Hinault had set an almost suicidal pace and only Lemond could stay with him. They crossed the line together hand-in-hand. LeMond let Hinault cross the line slightly ahead of him, so Hinault was credited with the stage win. But there was a lot of tension between LeMond and Hinault, which played itself out in the French newspapers. Hinault had apparently said he would help LeMond win that year, but then he raced like he was going to win himself. LeMond whined. I always appreciated how great a cyclist LeMond was, but I thought he carried too much of a victim complex around with him. Regardless, I was hooked. Cycling was the bomb.
Then LeMond was in a hunting accident. He was shot by a shotgun fired by his brother-in-law. He almost didn’t make it and his recovery took a long time. He still has pellets in his body. He came back and won Tour again in 1989, and again in 1990. To me that’s nearly as remarkable as Armstrong’s victories after fighting cancer.
That 1989 Tour had the closest finish in Tour history. Laurent Fignon, the great French cyclist, was ahead of Lemond by only 50 seconds going into the last day of the Tour. That day the race organizers decided it would be an individual time trial rather than the typical group finish. Here is that finish:
LeMond won the Tour by only 8 seconds! That’s after 22 days of racing. Never again has the Tour finished with a time trial.