In February 1983, Greg LeMond is 22. He’s not on top of the world yet but he’s working on it. 1982 saw him change his status. He went from the exotic newcomer, American idol in the making, to boy wonder-soon to replace his friend Bernard Hinault, winner of the Giro and the Tour that year. No less.
If Greg’s 1982 spring was disappointing, it’s only because he broke his collarbone early in Liège, missing the following races. His late season, however, was not missed. In fact, it was not missed at all : the young American made a statement. He was there for good, and he meant business. First, Greg LeMond took the silver medal in the world championship. If his tactics were put in question that day, his strength wasn’t. The 10’ gap Greg took over his closest opponent in the Tour de l’Avenir convinced the last sceptics that this boy could actually be the next “Big Thing” in cycling.
So when Greg LeMond wins his first race of the 1983 season, the first stage of the Tour Méditerranéen, it is no surprise for anyone. It just makes perfect sense because at the time Greg appears to be a key element in the Renault-Gitane team.
It is a year of transition for the team. Bernard Hinault, team leader and the world’s strongest rider at the time is getting frustrated with the way the team is handled and managed by the team coach, Cyrille Guimard. The young riders that were brought on to help Hinault (LeMond, Fignon, Jules, Madiot, Mottet…) are hungry. And they won’t feed on the Badger’s leftovers. They need live bait. Decent meals.
Greg’s spring isn’t bad. He is seen here and there, helping Hinault or trying to nail a victory for himself. The Vuelta is supposed to be his first Grand Tour. But as Hinault and Fignon fight with the Spanish to try and conquer the “Amarillo” jersey, Greg catches a virus and retires on stage 17. This allows him to heal and come back in june for the Dauphiné.
There, in this difficult, one-week mountainous terrain he wins 2 out of the first 5 stages. He is in yellow. It seems he’s about to win a strong race, the very race that saw him do his coming out as a rookie 2 years earlier when he achieved a 3rd place working for Hinault, winner in 1981. But the Ventoux climb on stage 6 sees Greg LeMond hit a Pascal Simon-shaped wall. The giant French is stronger than ever and takes the yellow that day. Greg wins the last ITT but it is not enough. It’s only weeks after that we learn that Simon was doping on the Dauphiné. Greg wins but it is a bitter feeling. The reality of doping hits Greg LeMond like a slap on the face. This will not be the last time.
A huge event for the team occurs at the same time : Hinault announces he will not race the Tour. His knee has not recovered from the Spanish lessons he and Fignon gave & took in april. This leaves the team leader chair empty for the Tour de France. But as Hinault had done himself in 1977 as he had just won the Dauphiné, Greg LeMond decides it is too soon for him to enter the Tour. He’ll do his debut in 1984, when he is ready.
July comes and the Tour de France trophy remains within the team, as Laurent Fignon finds out he is able to keep up at a strong level over 3 weeks. His 7th place at the Vuelta was a sign, it is now confirmed.
Greg LeMond is well aware that Fignon’s triumph means competition. If he wants to maintain his own status within the team, he has to strike. Hard. And twice rather than just once.
On September 4, Greg LeMond enters the world championship feeling better than he ever felt before. He trained with his buddy Phil Anderson and knows he’s onto something great. For the whole race, Greg remains within the first rows of the peloton. He wants to see how things evolve. He escapes once. Then twice when his first attempt is put to an end. Greg is in a small group. Every time the group climbs the most difficult hill of the race, one of the riders is left behind. When Italian Moreno Argentin is dropped, things get serious. With no rider at the front, the Italian squadra azzura has to lead the peloton back. But it is too late. Greg LeMond is now alone at the front. And he’s not slowing down. As he crosses the finish line, Greg LeMond also crosses a line of that note he wrote as a teenager : winning a pro road world title at 23.
Oh, wait… That’s not over yet.
In 1983, there is no such thing as the world cup or pro-tour or FICP classification. In 1983, the title of “best cyclist of the season” is given to the rider who will earn the most points in the most meaningful races of the season. All 3 grand Tours are taken into account, as well as 12 one day classics and 7 one week stage races. Sponsored by a French liquor brand “Pernod” it is know as “Super Prestige”. Points dotation is subject to criticism (winner or the Vuelta wins 60 points, as does a classic winner. The Dauphiné is rewarded with 55 points, Giro 75 –as much as a world champion title- the Tour de France being at 110 points) but in 1983, it is the only classification of this kind in existence.
With his world champion title, the Dauphiné in the bag, and a 10th place at the Flèche, Greg is at 145 points, as is Jan Raas. Sean Kelly has 155 points. Saronni 175. 3 races remaining will give 60 points to the winner each time.
At the gigantic ITT of the “Grand Prix des Nations” (left picture), Greg reaches the 2nd place and 40 points. In Blois-Chaville (middle picture), now Paris-Tours, LeMond is caught between 2 Raleigh team riders and sticks to Jan Raas’s wheel. Peeters wins. Greg takes 4th, right behind Raas.
It will all end in the Giro di Lombardia (right picture). Greg is now at 205 points. Kelly is at 160. Raas & Saronni at 175. Soon there is only LeMond & Kelly left in the leading group. They know each other quite well and Kelly is a master sprinter. If the irish wins, Greg has to be no further than 5th place in order to win the Super Prestige. Sprint is wild. 4 riders finish in a 15 cm gap : Sean Kelly wins, Greg LeMond is in 2nd place.
This is how Greg LeMond’s 3rd season as pro rider comes to an end. And Greg has not raced the Tour yet. It is not world domination just yet, but close enough.
On a side note, the Renault-Gitane team wins :
-1 one-day classic : Flèche Wallonne (Hinault)
-1 one week race : Dauphiné Libéré (LeMond)
– 2 Grand Tours : Vuelta (Hinault), Tour de France (Fignon)
-World road race title (LeMond)
-Super Prestige Pernod (LeMond)
I’d add that these guys were riding the most beautiful bikes ever…
Results 1983 :
19/02/1983 : Tour Mediterranéen (FRA) : 1st place in 1st stage
16/03/1983 : Tirreno – Adriatico (ITA) : 10th place overall
19/03/1983 : Milan – Sanremo (ITA) : 30th place
06/04/1983 : Gent – Wevelgem (BEL) : 12th place
14/04/1983 : Fleche Wallonne (BEL) : 10th place
17/04/1983 : Liège – Bastogne – Liège (BEL) : 78th place
04/05/1983 : Vuelta d’Espana (SPA) : 2nd place in stage 15A
12/05/1983 : GP de la Wallonie (BEL) : 13th place
29/05/1983 : Mandel – Leie – Schelde (BEL) : 9th place
31/05/1983 : Dauphiné Liberé (FRA) : 1st place in stage 1
04/06/1983 : Dauphiné Liberé (FRA) : 1st place in stage 5
06/06/1983 : Dauphiné Liberé (FRA) : 1st place in stage 7B (ITT)
06/06/1983 : Dauphiné Liberé (FRA) : 1st place overall
15/06/1983 : Tour de Suisse (SWI) : 2nd place in stage 1
17/06/1983 : Tour de Suisse (SWI) : 2nd place in stage 3
18/06/1983 : Tour de Suisse (SWI) : 3rd place in stage 4
21/06/1983 : Tour de Suisse (SWI) : 3rd place in stage 7
24/06/1983 : Tour de Suisse (SWI) : 4th place overall
14/08/1983 : GP Eddy Merckx (BEL) : 6th place overall (ITT)
23/08/1983 : Druivenkoers Overijse (BEL) : 6th place
27/08/1983 : Tour of Holland (NED) : 37th overall
04/09/1983 : World Championships Altenrhein (SWI) : 1st place
21/09/1983 : Paris – Brussels (FRA) : 12th place
25/09/1983 : GP des Nations (FRA) : 2nd place (ITT)
15/10/1983 : Tour of Lombardy (ITA) : 2nd place
22/10/1983 : Trofeo Baracchi (ITA) : 8th place
23/10/1983 : Climbers trophee Montjuich (SPA) : 14th
31/12/1983 : Superprestige Pernod Classification : 1st place
Criteriums 1983 :
28/06/1983 : Made (NED) : 6th place
31/07/1983 : Schijndel (NED) : 3th place
02/08/1983 : Obbicht (NED) : 4th place
09/08/1983 : Emmen (Ned) : 9th place
06/09/1983 : Acht van Brasschaat (BEL) : 3th place
09/09/1983 : Valkenburg (NED) : 3th place
10/09/1983 : Hoevelaken (NED) : 2nd place
11/09/1983 : Eindhoven (NED) : 3rd place
18/09/1983 : Twello (NED) : 2nd place
02/10/1983 : Cluses (FRA) : 2nd place
16/10/1983 : Criterium des As (FRA) : 1st place
By Nicolas – NL_LeMondFans