The now-overwhelming evidence that Lance Armstrong did indeed dope to get an unfair advantage in winning his seven consecutive Tour de France victories has overshadowed the fact that Greg LeMond has claimed the allegations were true all along. LeMond’s comments were dismissed as ‘sour grapes’ because Armstrong had replaced him as the greatest American cyclist. The media regarded him as a crackpot, has-been that was jealous of Armstrong’s success. Well, they will never do it, but it time for them to apologize to LeMond.
Greg LeMond was my first cycling hero. I began my cycling life around 1980 watching this crazy race via satellite when:
- Few of my friends even realized cycling was a sport
- Fewer knew that America had athletes participating is this “European” sport
- My family was the only one I knew with the giant satellite dish delivering raw feeds from around the globe
In 1986 I watched in horror as his teammate Bernard Hinault, who LeMond had supported the year before to victory, failed to support LeMond as they had agreed. LeMond was clearly the stronger ride, but Hinault was a legend attempting to win his 6th title. LeMond was convinced to give up the chance to become the first American to win the Tour in return for making 1986 “his year.” This betrayal was not enough to strop LeMond from winning his first Tour de France with the entire field of riders – including his teammates – working against him. When he won the tour, I was ecstatic! Sure, I had nobody around to share in the revelry, but you can bet as I put more and more miles on my bicycle – LeMond was riding with me on each one.
The drama continued as the following year, he was gut-shot in a hunting accident and it was thought he would never ride again. By the 1989 tour, LeMond returned to the podium for his second win. As with his previous win however, the drama surrounding the win was amazing. He was written off and counted out being 50 seconds down to Laurent Fignon before the final stage – an individual time trail. For LeMond to win, he would have to ride faster than anyone had ever ridden across a very short (25km.) Not only that, but Fignon was the fastest time trialist in the world and LeMond would have to beat him by 2 seconds on each and every kilometer.
LeMond beat Fignon in the final stage by 58 seconds giving him the closest victory in the history of the Tour de France – just 8 second!
By 1990, I was over-the-top into cycling and scheduled my work days around watching coverage (which had made its way to American finally) in the mornings before going in to work. LeMond won his third and final Tour de France just before the era of doping entered the sport. The following year, Spain’s Miguel Indurain won his first of five tours – he was later stripped of all his titles after it was revealed he had been doping.
LeMond went on to become an opponent of doping in the sport that gave him so much, but often the media wrote him off as a jealous and bitter former champion. I guess it was hard to believe that these new heroes could be swayed by the amazing dollars that had entered to the sport – how naive.
LeMond held to his convictions and stood by his comments while the media, which had forgotten about their responsibility to “get it right,” bought into the glitz and glamour.
Greg LeMond is the greatest “clean” American cyclist in history and for that reason, I consider him the greatest American cyclist. <—PERIOD