“Moments of pure happiness the richest man in the world can’t buy”
An in-depth interview with Greg LeMond team mate extraordinaire Eric Boyer.
Part II – “Riding the Champs Elysées with the yellow jersey on my wheel”
GLF: Let’s move forward to the 1988 Tour de France. At the start, you have 2 team leaders: Laurent Fignon and Charly Mottet. And yet, they quit and you end up 5th in GC on the Champs Elysées.
EB: That’s it. They both seem to be in a very good shape before the Tour. Guimard is happy because he has a strong leader in Fignon and a backup with Charly if anything goes wrong. I was doing well too; I was almost French champion a week before the Tour, being caught by winner Eric Caritoux in the last lap. Guimard thought I was individualistic, he warned me after that race: “I want you to dedicate yourself to Laurent and Charly for the Tour. You’ll have to forget about your own agenda”. I said of course, no problem. The Tour starts with a goofy prologue: we are supposed to do a TTT with only one rider finishing on his own… That’s ridiculous! (Laughs). I don’t remember the flat stages too much. We reach the mountain at Morzine. Not too hard a mountain stage, but still… Fignon vanishes very quickly. From the first climb he’s very bad. I’m at the limit but I manage to reach the summit with the top 25 riders. Fabio Parra is already gone for the win. Charly Mottet’s here. I’m told not to wait for Fignon. He’s stuck. He’ll quit the race en route to l’Alpe d’Huez the following day. This one is a big mountain stage with the Croix de Fer climb then l’Alpe d’Huez. At the foot of l’Alpe d’Huez, there are still 20 of us. I have to stay with Charly but it’s really hard for him in the first few slopes. I wait for him and set the pace. He’s going back and forth in my wheel for 4km. He screams at me: “Go ! I’m dead, it’s no use. Go! », Guimard is yelling « Stay with him! ». After a while, Guimard realizes it’s over and allows me to go. I must be in 15th position; we’re all in small groups. I catch them one by one and I finish 6th at the top. It’s a relief, but not enough to compensate the loss of Fignon and Charly’s failing. We head to the Pyrénées and Charly calls it quits too. I have no leader anymore. Guimard is grumpy and orders us to go after a stage win. I’m 8th at GC but he thinks I’m gonna explode soon. He doesn’t believe in me. I hang on.
GLF: You end up in the top 10 in every mountain stage.
EB: That’s it. I exit the Pyrénées at 5th or 6th place. We’re left with the Puy de Dôme climb and the last ITT. I’m not a hero but I kind of save the day, after all. There’s a huge pressure from the media. The stars aren’t there: Fignon, LeMond, Hinault… Delgado and Rooks lack charisma. The French media focus on the 1st French spot. Pensec and I embody the “new generation”. He’s already been 6th in the Tour, in 1986. Hinault is gone, Fignon is bad… People try to oppose us. Sometimes we fight a little. I tell him: “I don’t give a fuck about being the first French!” To me, the 5th place is more important. My goal is to reach the podium. Pensec kind of liked the idea of having the spotlights on him…
GLF: Because he had already had them before. He knew.
EB: That’s it. There’s a big fight on the Puy de Dôme. I do a good time trial and keep my 5th place. Ronan ends up at 7th place. This is good for me, the sponsor has had some exposure but we still have to win a stage. Guimard is frustrated. 1988 was supposed to be his big come back at a Tour win with Fignon. He calls us for a meeting and starts yelling: “If you don’t win the stage tomorrow, I cancel your bonuses, your expenses, everything! You don’t get a dime!” Then he slams the door. It’s a shock. Thierry Marie is kind of traumatized. The following day, in the last kilometer… We’re going fast, I swear… Indian file like… Thierry Marie breaks out… Takes a 100m lead… It’s a 1km avenue, straight line! Fuck… I swear… I’m trying to stay clear of crashes so I’m at the front of the pack and I see the guys… Van Poppel, Belgians, Dutchs, Vanderaerden (he winces) to prepare the sprint… My man Thierry Marie keeps his 100m lead, so impressive! All this because he was yelled at by Guimard. It worked with him. He wins. Honor is safe (he smiles).
GLF: Your status changes among the peloton? Is this why you’re hired by « Z »?
EB: Of course. Right after the Tour I have 7 or 8 team proposals. It’s a mess. I have no cell phone, no agent, and no counsel whatsoever. I have to stay by the phone, at home. I discover the pressure of being under the spotlight. That’s not easy. I’m attracted to Z. Pensec and I are the same level and age, we’re making progress. Roger Zannier (GLF:”Z vêtements” boss) has charisma. Bernard Vallet wants me at RMO… I’m disappointed because I feel like Guimard makes no big deal out of my 5th place in the Tour. I understand that when you’ve won it 7 times, having a kid doing 5th isn’t all that exciting, but still… I feel let down. I suspect Fignon is going to do good again at some point, Mottet too, I’ll always be 3rd in line if I stay at Système U. I don’t feel like being the only leader, either, so sharing the load with Ronan makes sense. We know each other. It’s an ambitious sponsor with a family business, colorful. I like that. Teka is offering me a ridiculous pile of money. I almost join Seven-Eleven at one point. It wasn’t the typical American war machine, they were modest, dedicated with strong individuals like Hampsten, that was “exotic”… I choose the security and sign at Z. I call Guimard to warn him. I’ll always remember when he says “The team is finished, then.” He was crying. Madiot had gone at La Vie Claire, Charly Mottet was leaving too, for RMO, and it wasn’t sure wether Fignon was going to do good again or not. Turns out Fignon has an awesome season in 89.
GLF: Awesome but frustrating
EB: Certainly. I do not do very well. I catch a viral hepatitis in the winter and tell no one. I figure it’ll be gone in 2 months. In fact, it takes 6 months to heal. I quit the Tour on a crash where I break my wrist. It’s a relief, really, as I don’t think I could have finished the Tour anyway. I confess to coach Roger Legeay my illness. He’s not happy with me.
GLF: Ronan Pensec doesn’t do very good, does he? I don’t remember him in 1989?
EB: He’s not on the Tour. Zannier realizes that what we’ve been doing this far is nice but winning is a whole other thing. In order to win, you got to hit big: LeMond, Fignon, maybe Delgado or Roche… It’s not a 50 names list.
GLF: Mottet and Fignon are number 1 and 2 on the UCI rankings.
EB: Yes. So… The team wants to keep us as team mates for a big name. They tell us they’ve made an offer to Greg LeMond. On the eve of the world championships, Greg signs at Z.
GLF: What made things go your way is that Roger Legeay was already trying to get Greg before the 1989 Tour de France.
EB: Yes. Greg was still trying to come back to his former self. His team management at ADR was ludicrous. Roger was the first to go and see him.
GLF: Greg is loyal, indeed. So, you see Greg integrating the team?
EB: He is the winner of the Tour and he brings a world champion jersey with him! That’s quite impressive. He comes with his extended family: his wife, his kids, Otto Jacome, Julien De Vries. Greg also brings with him a new idea of cycling, with rigorous training methods. There is hard work, then relaxation after the race. His wife brings him comfort, calm… That was strictly forbidden with Legeay before. The rule was: no women on the races. I wasn’t too fond of that rule. Guimard was much more flexible on that topic, believe it or not. Legeay had a shotgun for every woman in sight…
GLF: Kelly had a “no sex” rule 2 weeks before a big race.
EB: Yeah, well… Between what they say and what they do… Greg had sex the night before he won the worlds!
GLF: (laughs) That’s what he said, yeah.
EB: Legeay was disturbed, but in a good way. He said a little flexibility could be helpful. I like when things aren’t too tense. You have to have rigor, but you also have to let go once in a while. Greg’s behavior with people was great and it was instantly appreciated. That’s not marketing. Greg needed to check on his team mates, ask about their wives and families, about their kids. He’s a natural. He’s a born leader, both on and off the bike. He took care of his circle, his team mates, and his staff. His early 1990 season isn’t too great, as usual. He’s not winning. He’s not too bad, either. We go to the Giro in order to prep for the Tour.
GLF: Is he working for you at the Giro ? You’re doing well.
EB: No, I handle things myself. At one point we are by the seaside and a mountain comes. It starts raining, then snowing. We do not have earpieces. I call the team car where my coach is. Then I call again, and again… All the Italian riders are given clothes. I’m on my own in the front group. Greg is far behind and the car stayed with him to give him his clothes. We have to keep him safe for the Tour, it’s natural. Then the descent comes. It’s raining heavily. Everyone has a thermal vest, I’m in my summer clothes. No baselayer, nothing! I’m shivering and I get dropped in the descent. Then the team car arrives but… Go on and try to put on a waterproof jacket in the cold descent, with the wind and all… I stop because I am trembling. Duclos-Lassale catches me, we go down the road and I’m warming up again. We are 1 minute behind the leaders. We chase them for 50km, we can see them cars. We have 30 guys behind us and none of them is giving a hand. I explode, we give up. We’re 20 minutes late at the finish. In the evening I flip out! I blame Legeay because I didn’t make any mistake. He thinks I’m not brave enough, I should have put up with the cold… I’m on the verge of slamming the door and just go home. I’m in good shape so I stay in the race. Since I’m pretty far at GC, I’m allowed to attack. I win atop a 5km climb at Baselga di Pinè, then 2 days later I win again. We start in Austria. Greg is in a break away all day long. When he is caught I attack along with 6 or 7 other riders. There’s a ramp at the finish where I escape 1,5km from the line and I win. I save the team’s Giro and the more we move forward, the better Greg is feeling. Things are looking good for the Tour, except… When the Tour begins, we get a 10 minutes deficit from the start. Pensec, Bauer, Chiappucci and Maassen are away. We have to play the Pensec card, you never know… We didn’t think Chiappucci would become what he turned out to be. We’re on the razor’s edge.
GLF: And Bauer is a friend of Greg’s.
EB: True. For the first mountain stage in St Gervais, Claveyrolat wins, Greg is right there but he stays put. Pensec attacks during the finish because Bauer and Chiappucci aren’t too good. He takes the yellow jersey. The following day, at l’Alpe d’Huez, there isn’t much happening. Pensec and Chiappucci lose some time, Greg stays with the best. He doesn’t attack; he lets Pensec do his race.
GLF: Did you believe, at one point, that Pensec could win the Tour?
EB: No (silence). He’s having a good day in St Gervais but other than that, he loses time constantly. Chiappucci shows he is better than Pensec, a little bit every day. It prevents us from working just for him. It’s too dangerous. Ronan, Kvalsvoll, Millar, Cornillet, Jérôme Simon and I had a goal : shake Chiapucci off, make him blow up.
GLF: The Saint Etienne sage is beautifully played: Pensec attacks, Chiappucci’s team has to chase him, only to see Greg counter attack when they’re cooked.
EB: That’s magnificent. But it’s not done yet; Chiappucci is still in the lead. En route towards Luz Ardiden, he attacks and we catch him on the Tourmalet.
GLF: Greg attacks in La Mongie.
EB: Delgado and Indurain accelerate. Greg goes along but Simon and I are dropped. Cornillet is a bit forward. I try to come back but I see Greg’s group catch Cornillet and he’s riding ahead! Chiappucci is not doing well so Cornillet is right to go full gas but if he had waited just a little bit, we could have ridden, both of us. Cornillet leads Greg to the bottom of Luz Ardiden and Greg does the rest, with Indurain on his wheel, Miguel wins the stage. I think I end up 9th on that stage, not too far. I had to, for the sake of the team classification. After this, we almost lose everything at Marie-Blanque, with Greg’s flat. Simon and I had just been dropped; we were 300m behind LeMond. All of sudden, we see Roger Legeay’s car coming, full gas. Not as in the Giro. He almost crushes us. A little further we see Greg climbing back on his bike. We understand. We go down like crazies! In the valley we find ourselves 1 minute behind Chiappucci and his cowboys. Duclos and Kvasvoll were in a break up front. They wait for us. When we catch them, we all ride like a train and recapture Chiapucci eventually.
GLF: Greg takes the yellow jersey at the Vassivière ITT.
EB: I don’t want to sound pretentious but when we arrive there, we know Greg will win the Tour. He’s extremely confident, serene, relaxed. He makes up his 5 seconds deficit pretty quick, sets a gap and then manages to get to the finish. He knows nothing can happen to him on the last day.
GLF: Then, there is a big party.
EB: The Zannier family knew how to party and reward the team. They had rented a houseboat on the Seine. It was an open bar party and we slashed the champagne at 6AM, showering ourselves with it. There was a one inch deep sea of champagne on the boat, swaying left and right as we crossed other boats. Zannier told us that when he went back to the houseboat to pay for the party, the captain told him: « I’ve had soccer players, I’ve had rugbymen, that was my first time with cyclists… never again! »… These are moments of pure happiness that the richest man in the world can’t buy. Riding the Champs Elysées with the yellow jersey in your wheel…(long pause)… The richest man on the planet cannot buy that. It’s not something you acquire with money. You have to live this, you have to go and get it. I said this to bankers: The feeling of victory in sport, this is something you can’t buy. The richest man in the world can’t buy these emotions. They’re not for sale. That’s impossible.