America’s most successful cyclist, Greg LeMond, talks through five of his favourite career victories

Junior World Championships 1979

Greg LeMond’s favourite career moment is probably one that few people actually witnessed. Aged 18, LeMond stormed onto the world scene at the Junior World Championships in Argentina, medalling in three disciplines on both road and track.

“I got three medals in Argentina,” said LeMond. “I got a bronze medal in the team time trial and a silver on the track, despite having not ridden a pursuit for years! Then I won the road race.”

The win marked the American’s readiness to enter the professional ranks and, courted by Bernard Hinault and coach Cyrille Guimard, he joined the Renault team in 1981.

Greg LeMond 1980

Greg LeMond claimed medals on the road and track in the 1979 World Championships in Argentina

Before the move to the professional scene, LeMond won Circuit de la Sarthe and was in contention to win at the Ruban Granitier de Breton when he punctured. The American was reportedly angry that his team car was nowhere to be seen and vented this when it finally arrived with a spare wheel. The incident made Guimard want to sign him even more, according to Richard Moore’s Slaying the Badger biography.

But LeMond insists his final years as an amateur were some of his best years of racing, despite his early success in Europe with Renault. “I think in 1979 and 1980 I was riding better than I did in my first two years as a professional, because I was just flying.”

>>> The top 10 most impressive pro debut seasons

World Championships 1983

LeMond didn’t hang around when he reached the professional stage. He won three stages on his way to the overall Tour de l’Avenir in 1982 and finished second in the World Championships the same year. Italian Giuseppe Saronni outsprinted the American in front of the thronging crowds at Goodwood — the last time the Worlds came to Britain.

“In my first five years as a racer I won everything I wanted to win,” he said. “I went to Europe and raced in Switzerland, France, Belgium and won all those races. The rise was so fast and so exciting.”

Greg LeMond, World Championships 1983

Greg LeMond, World Championships 1983

LeMond’s wait for a rainbow jersey was not to be a long one, however, coming back the following year to triumph in Altenrhein, Switzerland. The win saw LeMond become the first American to win a World Championships road race, with Lance Armstrong joining him on the list 10 years later.

Wearing the rainbow jersey for the first time, LeMond stormed his way to third place in his first Tour de France in 1984, picking up the young rider classification too.

The American’s form in the 1985 season was equally remarkable, with podium finishes in both the Tour and Giro d’Italia, and another second place at the World Championships, this time losing out to Joop Zoetemelk.

Tour de France 1986

It was in LeMond’s sixth year as a professional that he stood on the top step of the Tour de France podium, having beaten team-mate Hinault for the yellow jersey.

LeMond was officially a co-leader of the La Vie Claire team, along with the ‘Badger’, but Hinault looked certain to claim his sixth Tour title halfway through the race.

However, not even a five-minute time deficit could dissuade LeMond from chasing the title, and the American clawed back four and a half minutes the following day. The yellow jersey was on LeMond’s shoulders after stage 17, setting up a famous tussle on Alpe d’Huez where the duo finished side by side. Wave after wave of Hinault attacks failed to break the American, who rolled home in Paris to take the overall win.

Greg LeMond at the Tour de France 1986

Greg LeMond at the Tour de France 1986

“Athletically it’s the one I’m most proud of. It’s the one when I beat one of the best riders of all time, and I beat him fair and square,” said LeMond.

“Riding in the same team as Hinault was the most stressful thing, and looking back it was even more dark than I first thought. It wasn’t really Hinault himself; it was all the other people who wanted Hinault to win.”

He added: “I came into cycling with [Cyrille] Guimard, who was really changing the way races were ridden. We never had one leader; leadership was given in the moment. If you were riding the best, you raced. Even if I could win but Hinault was riding a little better, I raced for him, and he would do the same for me.”

>>> Greg LeMond interview: Tour de France 1990

Tour de France 1989

LeMond’s 1986 Tour win was followed by a two-year absence from the race. A hunting accident, which left him with 35 shotgun pellets in his body, ruled him out of action in 1987 before tendonitis scuppered his return in 1988.

But even pellets in his liver and heart would not stop LeMond from returning to the Tour, and he did so with a bang in 1989.

A rare final stage time trial from Versailles to the Champs-Elysées would see LeMond and the 1984 champion, Laurent Fignon, go head-to-head in the closest finish in Tour history.

Setting off 50 seconds back on Fignon, LeMond rode the time trial of his life to win the Tour by eight seconds.

Greg LeMond leads Robert Millar and Laurent Fignon in the 1989 Tour de France

Greg LeMond leads Robert Millar and Laurent Fignon in the 1989 Tour de France

“I get so nervous when I know I can do well,” he said. “I warmed up in the morning and did some calculations in my mind based on our times from the Giro. I knew that I could probably win without the aero bars, but it would be incredibly close.

“I actually thought I would take more time out of him than I did, but I felt so good in the morning and told everyone I was going to win it. I never did that because it was like a jinx. I was super-nervous, but it was a really fun ride.

“I flew through that time trial — I could have done another 25km like that!”

Even after that finale, LeMond still wasn’t through with the French race, and returned the following year to claim his third overall victory while riding for Z-Tomasso.

>>> Tour de France 1989 – the greatest Tour ever

World Championships 1989

“I wish this one was one of the Classics, but I never had a really good one!” LeMond joked.

Instead, a second World Championship would have to suffice for the American’s fifth favourite career highlight.

By winning the rainbow jersey in Chambery, France, in August 1989, LeMond became only the fourth cyclist in history to win both the Tour and the Worlds in the same season.

LeMond edged out Dimitri Konyshev and Sean Kelly for the gold medal, ensuring he would ride the 1990 season in the multicoloured stripes.

“Working with Guimard and knowing how to train in cycles was important,” he said. “Knowing about recovery and then when to overload and taper meant that I always did really well at the Worlds.

Greg LeMond, World Championships 1989

Greg LeMond, World Championships 1989

“Of course, I kept my fitness from the Tour, but there was a very specific way that I trained for the World Championships.”

While two rainbow jerseys would likely count as a successful career for most cyclists, LeMond remains disappointed that his Classics trophy cabinet remained bare.

“For the Classics we followed too much of an old way of doing things. If I had trained for them like the Worlds then I’d have backed it up more. I would come into the Classics season slightly overtrained, but I loved training for them.

“It’s the one thing I regretted, not winning a Classic. I got just as excited for the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix as I did for the Tour de France.”

this article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Cycle Sport magazine.

  • John Techwriter

    ” I would come into the Classics season slightly overtrained . . .” As if!

  • The Awakening

    Greg LeMond, what a truly great rider.

    If you are reading this Greg, I am truly shocked by the way you were treated by Lance Armstrong. Now the full truth has emerged, the way you and your family SUFFERED as a consequence of Lance Armstrong, IT IS YOU that has become a HERO and a TRUELY great ambassador for the sport of cycling.

    I hope that the United States Cycling Governing body of Cycling FULLY RECOGNISE your achievements not only as a cyclist, but also for being the HONOURABLE person that you are.

    Greg, you are a HERO in my eyes.

    • cahern1968

      LA damaged a lot of peoples lives, especially the ones who spoke against him.

    • EricJ

      And Trek was funneling extra bikes under the table to LA, knowing full well that the bikes were being sold on ebay with the proceeds funding LA’s drug program. Trek knew Greg was telling the truth and yet they choose to screw Greg and ruin pro cycling. Boycott Trek until they come clean. Demand answers!

      • The Awakening

        EricJ,

        RE: “And Trek was funneling extra bikes under the table to LA, knowing full well that the bikes were being sold on ebay with the proceeds funding LA’s drug program. Trek knew Greg was telling the truth and yet they choose to screw Greg and ruin pro cycling. Boycott Trek until they come clean. Demand answers!”

        Thank you for your posting. I am not suggesting that what you are stating is not true, because I am truly astonished by what you have written here.

        [1] Why would Trek do what they did, which was screw Greg LeMond, knowing that he was telling the truth?

        [2] Why would Trek support Lance Armstrong, knowing that it would fund Lance Armstrong’s drug programme?

        It truly beggars belief!

        • EricJ

          It’s all fact, I’m repeating what was reported in the Wall Street Journal. I can’t speak to motive, someone should ask the Burke family. If it wasn’t true, the Burkes would force a retraction .

          • The Awakening

            EricJ,

            I found an article written by Nathaniel Vinton of the Daily News, published: Friday, July 2, 2010, titled ‘Floyd Landis tells Wall Street Journal that Lance Armstrong sold racing bikes to fund doping program’. I C&P it here;

            “Floyd Landis told the Wall Street Journal that Lance Armstrong raised funds for an elaborate doping program by selling off expensive racing bikes provided by the Trek Bicycle Corp., one of Armstrong’s most loyal sponsors.

            Armstrong, whose cancer-survival memoir “It’s Not About the Bike” helped make him a global sports icon, in May denied accusations his former teammate Landis leveled at him while rocking the cycling world with a long-awaited doping confession.

            In a pair of articles posted on the Journal’s Web site Friday night, Landis says he was annoyed in 2004 to be forced to race on rickety old bikes while riding in support of Armstrong at the Tour de France. Landis says he then did some investigating and learned that the team was selling off newer bikes to help fund exotic cheating methods that included testosterone patches and blood transfusions.”

          • EricJ

            The WSJ reported the Trek TdF bikes were sold on ebay and industry insiders couldn’t understand why/how someone had LA TdF team bikes and was selling them. Mary Burke ran for Wisconsin Governor but she didn’t have a clue those bikes were being sold? OK…..

          • The Awakening

            EricJ,

            Found the article in ‘The Wall Street Journal’, written by Reed Albergotti And Vanessa O’Connell, dated July 3, 2010, titled THE CASE OF THE MISSING BIKES. I C&P, this extract;

            “In March 2004, during an eight-day race from Paris to Nice, Mr. Landis said he was in position to win the sixth stage when his bike frame snapped. He blamed the mishap on the bike’s carbon frame, which, he said, had been weakened by wear and tear.

            After the race, Mr. Landis recalled, he found Johan Bruyneel, the director of the U.S. Postal Service team, and told him he needed a brand-new bike. According to Mr. Landis, Mr. Bruyneel told him the team didn’t have enough equipment to allow every rider to always have new bikes.

            Mr. Landis said he didn’t believe Mr. Bruyneel. Some time after the race, he said, he placed a call to Scott Daubert, a representative from the team’s official frame maker, Trek Bicycle Corp., and also to Wayne Stetina of the component manufacturer Shimano Inc., which supplied the team with things like pedals.

            In those conversations, Mr. Landis said, he learned the team was given enough frames and components to make about 120 bikes a year. After doing some rough calculations, he said, he determined the team was missing about 60 bikes.

            A few weeks later, Mr. Landis said, he had dinner with Bart Knaggs of Capital Sports & Entertainment, the company that acts as an agent for lead U.S. Postal rider Lance Armstrong; Geert Duffeleer, the team’s cook and a personal assistant to Mr. Bruyneel; and at least two other riders.

            At the dinner, Mr. Landis said, he told the group he had talked to the sponsors and believed at least 60 bikes were unaccounted for.

            The next day, Mr. Landis said, he got a phone call from Mr. Bruyneel, who was angry that Mr. Landis had contacted the sponsors. According to Mr. Landis, Mr. Bruyneel told him that the money raised from equipment sales helped pay for doping.”

          • EricJ

            Now you have to believe Scott Daubert didn’t tell anyone at Trek and didn’t made the Burkes aware of what was going on. When Greg called out LA, the Burkes have to claim they were clueless and just stood by LA despite all the evidence. Nobody told the Burkes about the bikes on ebay? OK…. I guess Wayne Stetina is in the same boat. When are the cycling magazines going to start asking the tough questions?

          • The Awakening

            EricJ,

            RE: “When are the cycling magazines going to start asking the tough questions?”

            I think that question or similar questions to it, has probably been asked by the reporters Paul Kimmage and David Walsh as well…

        • EricJ

          Lots of people knew Greg was telling the truth. Look at the list of team managers for LA’s teams. Were any of them there when LA had the bus pulled over and did blood transfusions to blood dope in the middle of the TdF?