“La Primavera” proves her name suits her well as springtime seems to have decided to pop up on that very day. Milan-San Remo is the first one day classic of the season. It is also round 1 for the strongest riders in the peloton. The first “Monument”. The hilly seaside of northern Italy is spectacular and makes for suitable scenery.
Greg LeMond has been here before. In 1982, his second year as a pro, he placed 17th, 5th in the bunch sprint of a strange race, disorganized by the eerie escape of French buccaneers Marc Gomez (winner) and Alain Bondue. In 1983, Greg finds mud on the way to San Remo but misses the train and ends up in the second chasing group, Giuseppe Saronni having “pulled a Goodwood” again with his rainbow jersey on, this time. In 1985, after a blank result in 1984 (DNF), Greg LeMond seems to be on the verge of reaching the stars. One week prior to the Poggio feast, we see our man facing a snowstorm at Tirreno-Adriatico, only to catch some aggressive germ as he is set to win… Greg retires from Tirreno on the last day and is a no show at Milan.
An early breakaway puts the first stage of the La Vie Claire rocket on orbit. Kim Andersen is here to make sure his teammates can “smoke the pipe” within the comfort of the peloton. The team has a plan. The Danish spends most of his day at the front.
After a while, Andersen finds himself at the front with just the help of one other rider. He needs help. Spring is coming. A counter-attack group is closing in and Steve Bauer shows up. He is among the 7 riders backing up Andersen and his companion. Now La Vie Claire is 2 riders strong. It’s a good group. Marc Madiot and Steven Rooks are there too. Stage 2 of the La Vie Claire rocket is in place.
At the front of the peloton, the Panasonic team is trying to organise the chase. They want to make sure Eric Vanderaerden has a shot at winning a bunch sprint, eventually. Behind them stands one Greg LeMond, ready to jump on any attack.
The second to last climb of the race, the Cipressa, is climbed at a very fast pace. Greg (working for La Vie Claire) and Charly Mottet (working for Marc Madiot and Laurent Fignon’s Système U) are guarding the peloton fort. Sean Kelly’s not far.
At the front of the race, only 5 riders are left : Bauer, Rooks, Madiot, Wijnands and Petito. They keep pushing until the foot of the Poggio. It is the defining moment of Milan-San Remo. The front of the peloton shows Francesco Moser, Sean Kelly, Greg LeMond and French sprinter Bruno Wojtinek standing by. There is a regroup. Greg asks his friend Steve Bauer to give everything he has left. It’s a fast pace. Stage 1 of the La Vie Claire rocket is about to launch.
In the first hairpin, there is a bit of a mess. The TV cameras motorcycles find themselves stuck in between riders. This is dangerous. The helicopter takes over and tries to keep up. By the second hairpin, Steve Bauer has given up… Greg LeMond is away. Followed like a shadow by the small rider Mario Beccia, Greg is pushing hard. But the pair soon sees Sean Kelly join them. Kelly is a predator. And he’s not here for fun. He takes the lead instantly and keeps the pace going. There is a good reason for it. Behind the 3 leading riders, just 5m away is Niki Ruttimann, swiss rider for La Vie Claire. A secret weapon, if you like. But Kelly is pushing so hard that poor Niki fails to make the junction. Stage 1 of the La Vie Claire rocket is having a failure. “Koechli, we have a problem”.
Moser and Fignon lead the peloton but they know they didn’t quite nail it. The Frenchman takes notice. There aren’t 2 opportunities to shine on the Poggio.
The descent goes by fast, Kelly and LeMond being 2 of the finest pilots in the peloton. It’s the “ultimo Chilometro”. Greg is standing by Kelly’s wheel. Perfect placement. But as the sprint starts, the Irishman takes 2-3 meters over the American and keeps them over. He is just too strong.
It’s only in 1988 that Greg LeMond makes it back to the Milan starting line. He is not the same man. Hired to be the leader of PDM, Greg is still struggling to get back to his former self after “that” hunting accident. We get a glimpse of him at the front on the Cipressa but he’ll never reach the foot of the Poggio as a massive crash brings him down in the descent right before it. No luck either in 1989, although we suspect Greg was too busy removing stuff from the oven with those potholders of his.
It’s only in 1992 that LeMond appears on the results sheets again. After the 1991 Tour de France demise, he’s in for revenge. Kelly tackles the win and Greg finishes in the first bunch, at the 22nd place. He’s still got it. Or so we think. In fact, the tide has turned. It’s too late for “LeMonster” to become a one-day races chaser, as we will be given the Gewiss-like clowns hovering by every dead carcass of a monument. An anonymous 140th place at the 1994 Milan-San Remo ends his story.
But in a sunny march afternoon of 1986, the mud covered Mondrian jersey of Greg LeMond looked pretty damn cool, don’t you think ?
Watch the images here.