Wednesday October 20, 1993. The Tour de France 1994 is presented in Paris. Specialists say the race will be tough. Four uphill finishes, a mountain time trial, a team time trial and 2 individual time trials. A man in the U.S. is making his plans. After a disappointing 1993 season without participating to the Tour de France, Greg LeMond still has one ambition. Getting ready and take the start in Lille for the prologue of the 81st Tour de France. But he’s not sure if he will be selected by his team. It all depends on his form and results during the 1994 season.
It’s the first time I use my video recorder while watching a race. The remote is in my hands waiting for a glimpse of Greg. And when he appears I quickly press the record button. I try to watch all the channels. The Belgian TV is broadcasting the spring classics. The French TV is showing images on the news. I even watch Spanish and American channels to be sure no image is missed.
The first results are not very promising. There is no LeMond in Paris-Nice due to a bad shape. He decides to start in Murcia (Spain) and prepare for Milan San Remo. Watching that race on television is a disappointement. My hand is sweating, holding the remote but there’s no LeMond to see. The other classics aren’t hopeful either. Only an 11th place in the final time trial and general classification of the 3 days of De Panne (preparation for the Tour of Flanders) is a remarkable result. This time I was lucky because I managed to record those images. In Paris-Roubaix, Greg first gets a flat, tries to get back but finally crashes and abandons thinking he broke his elbow. He then goes back to the US to prepare for the Dupont Tour. At that moment, there is no question about his participation in July. He will not be selected.
The prologue of the Dupont Tour isn’t bad at all. A 5th place gives him some confidence. “I feel my shape is good. But I’m not sure how I’ll do in the mountains” are his words after that short stage. But at the end of the Tour Dupont Greg finishes 35th in the final time trial losing 2m44 to Ekimov resulting in a 22th place in the general classification. An American channel is broadcasting a resume of the Dupont Tour. By chance I see it and record the whole thing.
Back in Europe he starts in the Dauphiné Liberé, a french race near the Alps. A 7th place in the individual time trial is good but the real surprise comes in the 4th stage. Greg finishes 3rd after Magnien and Kelly in a bunch sprint. I hear the news on the radio and beg my parents to switch channels to the fench television. They do and I’m able to record the sprint in the news. Losing more than 25 minutes in the next stage Greg abandons the race one day later.
The final chance for Greg is the Tour of Switzerland. No broadcasting this time. His team manager, Roger Legeay, orders him to finish the race. Otherwise he will not go to the Tour. Without any ambition Greg finishes every stage in the main pack of the peloton. Bust most importantly … he reaches Zurich and gets his ticket for the Tour.
Recorded images of the 1994 Tour Dupont and Dauphiné Libéré sprint
Cutting every article and picture out of the newspaper during the season I’m calling my grand dad every day. “Is there news about LeMond’s participation in the Tour” ? The answer is “No”. Every day the same answer until one day I hear “Yes”. “Please cut it out for me’. That article is now nicely pasted in my album about Greg’s 1994 season.
Lille, July 2, 1994. The Tour de France is about to get started with a 7,2 km prologue in the streets of Lille. On the eve of the start the traditional team presentation takes place in the centre of Lille. When the Gan team shows up my heart is beating faster. Now I’m 100% sure. Greg LeMond is participating to the Tour. He will have number 86. It’s been a long time since Greg wasn’t number 1 of his team in the Tour. It must have been 1986 when he won the Tour with number 7. The VHS recorder is working hard. I get every word and image on my tape.
Daniel Mangeas, the well known French presenter at the start and finish of each stage, is not asking questions to Boardman, the leader of the team and favorite for the prologue. All eyes are focused on Greg. When Daniel asks Greg when he will be satisfied the triple Tour de France winner shows a lot of ambition. “If I don’t achieve a top-3 finish, I’m not satisfied”. A big smile on his face and a wave to the public are his last actions before leaving the podium.
Greg LeMond is about to start in the prologue. Cameras are showing a close up of his face hiding under a white helmet with built-in shades. The noise of the VHS recording is the only sound I hear in our living room. Or not … “3,2,1, GO”. The man I’ve been waiting for rolls down the ramp on his black Lotus bike. Cameras are following him about 20 seconds and then they switch to other riders. The waiting starts. After 7 minutes they show LeMond speeding on the straight lane to the finish. 7:50, 8:10, … he’s coming closer … 8:30. A nice time but at the end of the stage he conceeds 41 seconds to his teammate and leader, Chris Boardman.
The next stages are heading towards the coast of France. Greg promised Roger Legeay he will win a stage. But now he has to work for the yellow jersey of Chris Boardman. It’s strange to see a former Tour de France winner take the lead of the peloton and work for someone else. Even the Belgian commentator makes that remark. A 69th and 72nd place in the first 2 stages do not say much about his form. Greg finishes nicely in the peloton.
The last stage on French territory before crossing the Channel to England is a team time trial of 66,5 km. Remote control in one hand, a candy in the other. I’m looking forward to this stage. The Gan team is very recognizable with that yellow jersey. So it’s easy to record at the right time. The first split time is not too bad. I’m confident. The road is getting hilly, the riders are slowing down. The camera is filming at the back of the Gan team. There’s only 6 riders left. The last one of the six remaining is wearing blue shorts. Different than the rest who have some kind of yellow blue patchwork color scheme. It’s Greg LeMond. He’s suffering. He’s in difficulty. He’s getting dropped. Oh no ! This can’t be true. Is he really in that bad shape ? He’s able to get back in the descend. They waited for him. It’s too risky for the team to continue with just five riders. Boardman is doing all the work. He wants to wear the yellow jersey in his country. Greg still takes the lead trying to help his teammate. The gan team finishes 8th losing 1:17 to the Belgian/Italian GB-MG team of Johan Museeuw who gets the yellow jersey.
Hope is over and the rumours are not positive. Greg is tired and doesn’t know if he will be able to finish this Tour de France. The next day the peloton is crossing England in a difficult stage to Brighton. I don’t see Greg. The remote is not in my hands. I know it’s almost over. The newspaper confirms my thoughts. A 174th place out of 185 losing over 5 minutes is the harsh verdict.
Stage 5 to Portsmouth isn’t really a rest day for Greg. He finishes in the peloton but seems to be out of force. The peloton is going back to France and prepares for the battle in Cherbourg. “If my shape is not improving, I don’t think I can continue this Tour. I hope it will get better, but I’m afraid it won’t” are his words at the start of the 6th stage to Rennes.
180 kilometers later he’s touching his brakes, stops at the side of the road and steps off his bike. Photographers are fighting to get the best shot. Cameras are showing a man whose smile in Lille has been replaced by a grey and tired face. Cyril Perrin, team mechanic, is talking to Greg. The man who won the Tour 3 times and wrote history in cycling touched his bike for the last time in a professional race. Cyril Perrin reaches out for it and puts it on the car. The sweep vehicle brings Greg to Rennes.
After recording all the news on television I eject the VHS tape out of the recorder and put the remote on the table. It’s over. I witnessed the final touch.
Tour de France recordings of 1994
I feel sad knowing the peloton has lost one of its champions, innovators, … gentlemen. I don’t like it at all. Cutting out articles in newspaper telling the same story over and over again makes me sad, but I do need them for my albums. 1994 … God I love the 80’s.
By Thierry – TM_LeMondFans