American cycling hero Greg LeMond won the Tour de France three times and the UCI World Championships twice. He was the first American bicycle racer ever to make a serious impression on the European dominance of road racing. LeMond was the first non-European ever to win the Tour de France. He was one of the most talented racers of his generation. His great riding helped make bicycle racing in the US more popular, which was until then a minor sport. The sheer enthusiasm which LeMond always seemed to have for the sport shone through in his riding.
During his rookie season as a professional, LeMond was third in the 1981 Dauphine Libéré. This was a great result for him, not only because it was his first season. He was actually riding for the Renault-Elf-Gitane team in the service of Bernard Hinault, who won the race. This proved to be the first of a complicated relationship between Hinault and LeMond. He won five races in his first pro season.
Tour de France
LeMond rode his first Tour de France in 1984. He finished third and won the white jersey. He was also riding as a helper for his Renault-Elf team leader Laurent Fignon, who won the race. Bernard Hinault (La Vie Claire) was second. The LeMond-Fignon rivalry also began that year. LeMond switched teams in 1985 to Hinault’s La Vie Claire. Rivalry between LeMond and Hinault peaked during their infamous Tour de France battles: for example, in 1985, when LeMond was stronger than Hinault, but not permitted by the team to ride; and in 1986, when LeMond won but was effectively betrayed by Hinault who attacked LeMond in the mountains.
The Fignon-LeMond rivalry peaked to create a legendary finale in 1989. The 1989 Tour de France was the closest ever in the history of the race, which consisted of a 24.5km time trial on the Champs Elysees. LeMond won the race by eight seconds. He rode the fastest time trial in the history of the Tour, at an average speed of 54.545kph. He won the tour again in 1990. Claudio Chiappucci was second and the Netherlands’ Eric Breukink, third.
Greg LeMond shot while hunting
At the peak of his professional cycling career, Greg LeMond was shot and nearly died. LeMond was back in the US recovering from a broken wrist sustained in the 1987 Tirreno-Adriatico. He had gone hunting and was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law. His injuries were life-threatening. He was hit by 60 shotgun pellets and suffered lung damage and extensive bleeding. He recovered after several operations.
LeMond loved riding on the cobblestones in the Low Countries. “I loved the cobbles. I came to Belgium when I was sixteen, in 1978, and every race we selected we looked for a race with stones. I came back the year after in 1979. I stayed in Aalst. Every day we would seek out sections of cobblestones to ride, and I raced any race that had cobblestones. I wanted to, because I loved them,” he said in the book Greg LeMond: Yellow Jersey Racer. Despite his love of the Flandrian style of riding, he didn’t win any of the Belgian classic races during his career.
Fights with Armstrong
Greg LeMond has always been outspoken against doping. This lead to a very nasty series of legal and personal battles between LeMond and Lance Armstrong over the years. LeMond also got into legal battles with Floyd Landis and his manager of the time. LeMond was also openly critical of the Tour organisation, UCI, at one point suggesting he himself should take over its chairmanship.
LeMond won the UCI World Championships in 1983. Second place was Dutchman Adrie van de Poel, third was Irishman Stephen Roche. He was also second in 1985 when Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk won the World Championship. Perhaps his most impressive Worlds was his 1989 victory in a four-man sprint against Dutchman Steven Rooks, Irishman Sean Kelly and Russian Dimitri Konychev in the pouring rain in Chambéry in France.
Dutch trainer with ‘Watts’
After the 1993 race season, LeMond hired Dutchman and physiologist Adrie van Diemen as a trainer. He was trying out a new gadget – a so-called ‘power meter‘ which enabled riders to measure their power output in watts. Greg predicted this would become a key metric for cyclists in the future. He wasn’t wrong. LeMond retired from professional bike racing in 1994. After many years in the shadows of the cycling scene during the Armstrong years, he has returned to the peloton as a presenter on cycling for Eurosport.
(Interested in other cycling legends? Check out: 7 things you didn’t know about Jacques Anquetil)