“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 III – “We think Greg is gonna be fine. Except everything goes wrong”
GLF: There are good things in 1991, your Giro is successful.
EB: I want to go back there because I have the feeling of an unfinished business. Greg wants to go too because that’s how he won his 3 Tours. He has a training plan, landmarks. We win the 1st stage with Casado, he takes the pink jersey, that’s great! After a few days, we take the boat one morning and we arrive in Napoli. We go check the circuit for tomorrow because it’s 6 or 7 times the same route. I feel great! There’s one climb and I’m doing very well on it. Right next after it, I notice the descent is in betweens fields of oliviers. It’s june and the road is greasy. I’m making mental notes about which turn is full speed and which one isn’t. Greg having no ambition, I’m free as a bird. In the last lap, I attack mid-way through the climb. I’m caught 500m from the top but rather than letting myself be absorbed by the peloton, I remain in the first few ranks, and… I attack again ! It’s not something that’s normally done when you get caught (he smiles). I start the descent on my own, full blast. The TV motorbike behind me crashes. On TV, you see the sky, the road, the oliviers, the road, the sky (he makes rolling gestures)… The helicopter has to take over. I win the stage and I take the pink jersey. It’s frustrating because for my day in pink, there is a climb 10km before the finish and nobody’s there to help me. I’m attacked from all sides. Since there was no prologue, gaps are very small at GC. I catch one guy, then the next guy, the next one after that but at one point I can’t go anymore. I don’t blame anyone, it’s just frustrating. I end up the Giro at 6th place because every day I’m feeling well and try to score another stage. But I feel much more tired after the race than I did in 1990.
GLF: When he leaves the Giro, Greg says it has become too hard a race to prep for the Tour.
EB: Making the same program year after year is difficult. Back then, we didn’t have SRMs, we had to act on sensations. We feel like Greg isn’t too bad, but he’s not the same as last year. It’s also true for me, Pensec and Kvasvoll… We’re all in between places. The Tour starts well; Greg takes the yellow. But then comes Jaca… Greg is at the front, but he has no team mate. Not a single one.
GLF: What happened ?
EB: We’re no good (long pause).
GLF: Are you ? Or is it the rest of the bunch that’s doing super good?
EB: In 91? We’re no good. Less good than in 1990. Just a tad below, but it makes a world of difference. Indurain, Bugno, Chiappucci, Fignon, Mottet… They’re all doing well. Greg is attacked. Luc Leblanc is flying that day and he takes the yellow. At dinner, we’re not proud of ourselves.
GLF: Greg is pissed.
EB: He’s angry at us, angry at everyone but he’s never mean. He says: « It’s not lost yet, we can win the Tour but we’ll figure it out as soon as tomorrow. I want you by my side. We have to make things work. ». Fortunately, I feel better the next day. I can feel the taste of blood. It is a big stage: Tourmalet, then Aspin and Val Louron. The race blows up as soon as the Tourmalet. Fignon is dropped. Is it where Indurain goes away?
GLF: I looked back at the footage last night. In fact, Greg attacks at the foot of the Tourmalet, he’s bluffing. After that, the leading group climbs together until the last 400 meters, where Greg jams. Indurain and Chiappucci go away in the descent.
EB: OK, that’s it. But I see Greg all along. He’s like 30 seconds away the whole time. It’s too much for him to wait for me. I’m 5 seconds behind Fignon. I remember this because my father was standing at the summit and he told Fignon to wait for me… As if Laurent gives a fuck! (laughs). We both go or an « open coffin » descent but there is fog and I can’t catch Fignon. In the valley, I’m like 15-20 seconds away from Greg and Roger tells me “Go! Go! Go!” I’m like: « Tell him to slow down a little, I’m right there! ».
GLF: This is after Aspin.
EB: Yes! But for the whole Aspin climb I’m standing 20 seconds behind! I’m not on camera because they’re focusing on Luc Leblanc who’s about to lose the yellow jersey.
GLF: You only get mentioned when you’re about to join Greg.
EB: And I’ve been there since Ste Marie de Campan! (GLF : Foot of the Tourmalet). Had I been there in Aspin…? We now know that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference because Greg was no good anyway, but still… So, I feel very good when I catch Greg and go through the valley to Val Louron at full speed. But as soon as we start climbing, Greg suffers a lot. I wait for him, of course, there’s no point in trying to win the stage, and we’re too far from the lead. When the race is over, we still believe that if Greg comes back to being “THE” Greg LeMond, he can blow everyone away. But as it turns out, it’s over.
GLF: He takes a big blow in Morzine, I think.
EB: He takes blows a little bit everywhere.
GLF: However, looking back at it, it seems that Greg’s ascent on l’Alpe d’Huez that year was the fastest he’s ever made. He’s slower in 86, which is to be expected since Zimmermann is already far, in 89 he’s fighting with Fignon, in 1990 nobody’s really attacking, the whole group stays together.
EB: Sometimes, it doesn’t make much sense. Indurain win his first Tour eventually, Chiappuci is second. Where’s Greg?
EB: 7th. The Z team is just not as good as in 1990. We try to redeem ourselves in 1992 but this time it’s Greg that’s no good at all.
GLF: 1992 is Greg’s best spring season since 1986: Great team work at Paris-Roubaix with Colotti and Casado protecting Duclos, Victory in the Dupont Tour. Both of you make a good Tour de Suisse. My brother meets Greg there and it seems Greg is confident he’s going to smash Indurain in the Tour.
EB: Of course, he is. He has a good spring, linear results. All signs are good. No sign of weakness whatsoever. We’re very confident for the Tour.
GLF: But en route to the start of the Tour in 1992 there’s an air strike and a truck drivers strike. It takes him 2 days to cross France, by car.
EB: He hasn’t slept in 24h when we meet him. He’s grumpy. We feel that he just needs a good night’s rest. No big deal. There is an average mountain stage right from the start but afterwards he can relax for a week or so. He’s doing Ok until the big guys attack atop Marie-Blanque. He’s not feeling well. I’m at the front; Greg is 30 seconds behind with a few team mates. Legeay asks me to wait and I comply. I have to say, I feel so great that day that I am able to bring everyone back on my own. When we reach Pau, there’s no harm. At the hotel, Kathy LeMond is in tears and she gives me a big hug. Greg is adorable, very appreciative of the work I’ve done. Sometimes, you have an exceptional momentum and you’re able to ride so fast… Anyway, we think it’s gonna be alright, we dodged a bullet, it’s gonna be fine. Except everything goes wrong.
GLF: There is the infamous Luxembourg ITT where Indurain puts everyone 3 or 4 minutes behind. Don’t you start asking questions? With the PDM epidemic the year before, it raises eyebrows, doesn’t it?
EB: Yes, it raises questions, but not that kind of questions. We don’t have an answer for Greg not doing well. Not in 92. In 93, when we think about it, we realize it started in 92. But in 92, we believe only 6 or 7 guys are on EPO. And these guys aren’t just anybody. Only Chiappucci is dubious, he’s never done a thing and reaches an A-list level in no time. This one is really fishy. Indurain had a really linear progress over the years, and Bugno isn’t a John Doe. There’s hardly any crook. Mottet, Fignon and Delgado are still there, not as good as they once were, of course, but they are. It’s Greg who looks nothing like who he was back in 89 or 90. He has a huge breakdown in the Alps. With Duclos, they’re stuck on the Galibier, like 50 minutes behind! We don’t question Chiappucci or Indurain, we question Greg first. He clearly has a problem. He’s never been that way, 50 minutes behind! The tank is empty, there’s no fuel left. When someone regresses, it happens little by little, there are signs. This, on the other hand, is a full stop. The man just won’t ride. It has to be a health issue.
GLF: Recovery was one of his biggest assets, so far.
EB: We believe that, if it’s a health issue, we’re gonna fix it! There’s still hope for next year. We have to narrow down the problem to its source. It’s not age related, we can’t fix that, but it’s a slow process. This, once again, is full stop. Problem is, Greg’s problem is very atypical. It’s never been seen. His body is starting to react in the worst possible way to training. We won’t know exactly for another 2 years. Greg still has lead pellets in his chest from his hunting accident in 1987. They’re in his very heart! It’s poisoning him, little by little, until it reaches his mitochondria. It’s a form of myopathy. And Greg announces it 2 days before the French telethon, in 1994. Late 92, Greg is absolutely certain he can be the one he once was, once again. But 1993 is blank for him. It is blank for me too. I just have one good day, which is a kind of a miracle. There’s one rainy mountain stage at the Dauphiné where I feel awesome and I do 3rd. I end up 3rd at GC as well but it’s truly a miracle. That’s the only day of the whole year I have felt any good. That’s it for 93. I don’t even remember Greg in 93.
GLF: It’s funny that you say that, because he told me the same thing! He can’t remember the years 93 & 94. To make him smile, I said “You don’t miss much.” He has a tendinitis, I believe, in 93; he’s DNF at the Giro. In 94 he’s 3rd at a Dauphiné sprint where Kelly is 2nd. Then there’s the Tour. You’re not at the Tour, are you?
EB: No, I’m not. I watch the TTT on TV where the guys are waiting for him… That’s an awful sight. He quits. Roger Legeay wants Greg to announce on the spot that he’s retiring. Greg basically tells him he can stick it up where it belongs. Even when he learned he had a myopathy, Greg was not giving up. Maybe not for long, but he was in denial. Then he went back to the States and we didn’t see him again after that.
GLF: How does your end of career look like?
EB: I’m not good at all in 94. Before the Tour, Roger instructs me not to go to the Tour, as some kind of punishment. He treats me as a child, like I’m grounded. I’m 32, there’s no way I’ll ask to go to the Tour. I’d be useless. Now THAT would be a punishment. But there’s no dialogue, no vote of confidence. He’s being bossy as if I was a young stud. I tell him: “Thanks Rodge!” (Ironic) “I don’t even want to go to the Tour, for fuck’s sake! Since you’re acting that way, I inform you that I’m not signing for that team again. And since I’m informing you this soon, you owe me to take part in any race I want, so that I can find another team!” He’s like “We’ll see”. We part ways. I race as I want but I’m not doing any good. I go to team Polti’s coach, Stanga. Cyrille Guimard vouches for me. He tells Stanga I’m trustworthy. My salary is beyond ridiculous but I don’t care. It’s all or nothing. I bounce back or I retire. I work like a dog: Giro, Switzerland, Tour de France… I quit at Marie-Blanque. It’s that place again. I could have grabbed the team car since it was the day after Casartelli died so the race was cancelled. I wouldn’t have been eliminated. But I wasn’t going to cheat, that’s all. I call it quits 2 months later… This year, 1995, is when I discover that everything I had suspected was true.
GLF: Meaning ?
EB: I had first read the letters EPO in a small article in 1992. Dr De Mondenard was writing about suspicious activities in the peloton, use of EPO. Word started to spread in 93-94 but it was mainly the Dutch, the Italians, and the Belgians. Ferrari and Conconi started it. Dutch and Belgian doctors went and got trained. No French doctor wanted to be a part of it. We’d heard about deaths in Belgium, in Holland. We weren’t buying this.
GLF: (ex-team mate) Phillipe Casado ?
EB: We will never know about Philippe. He retires in October 1994, dies on a rugby field in January 1995 of an aneurysm rupture… It’s not conclusive. He’s not doing well while he’s at Jolly, in 1994. He would have been better if he had taken EPO. It works for everyone. On the contrary, he’s so bad that he quits. You can’t say he took it. When I’m at Polti, it’s right there (he shows the table). I was bad. If I had taken it, I would have been much better. I saw average riders take it and do really well. I was dropped all the time. I was still able to do the “domestique” job, but when it got tough, I was out. EPO allows you to last longer. I could have done it.
GLF: I think Greg told the story of Casado telling his old team mates everybody was on EPO. There was a pow-wow in the Gan team and Roger Legeay refused to take part in the distribution of EPO. Greg said he’d always respect Legeay for this.
EB: I wasn’t there but that’s probably what happened. In France, there was no access in those years. We weren’t winning, sponsors were moving away. It’s only later that some French teams hired foreign doctors. 96, 97, 98… The doctor at Festina is Belgian; I’m not even naming the other ones… (hopeless smile). Did Gan do it later? I don’t know. It doesn’t look like it.
GLF: That’s depressing.
EB: It went so fast, you know. From one year to the other, everything changed.
GLF: Even as a spectator, I couldn’t believe it anymore. Greg gone, my interest softened, but these guys… I couldn’t relate to these guys, climbing with their hands at the bottom of the bars. I couldn’t identify.
EB: No failing, Only accelerations…
GLF: …Riders popping out of nowhere.
EB: No attacks, the purge coming from behind… Everyone accelerating until there’s only one left. Climbing landmarks blown up to pieces. We were lost (GLF: he says the word 3 times). I was doing so well in the 1992 Tour de France. Greg gone, I was free of my movements; I was doing great at l’Alpe d’Huez. I finished 3rd. There’s a guy in 2nd place. His name is Vona. Franco Vona (ironic tone). Hampsten wins, he’s better than I am, there’s nothing wrong with that. But… Franco Vona, man…You think “Where does this dude come from???”
GLF: Right, a crook. We’re running out of time, let’s change the subject. What’s your memory of LeMond bikes ?
EB: First and foremost there are the triathlete aero bars. It’s funny because people thought Greg had tested these for a year, using a wind tunnel, with engineers and stuff… (laughs). But in reality, Greg just came to the Tour, screwed that thing on his bars, refined the position and just went for it! Just like that! He led people to believe it was an elaborate thing and all (laughs)… It was a slap on the face of Guimard because all new technologies were supposed to come from him and bike brand Gitane : the Delta wings, the TT bike… they had done such a tremendous job. When they were told to do as Greg, their reply was that they couldn’t possibly use a wind tunnel as well! (laughs)… It’s too bad they couldn’t be more reactive. Greg was always very thorough about the hardware. We were the first to ride carbon bikes with TVT.
GLF: Did you keep one?
EB: No. I regret it. Then there were the black ones (GLF: Calfee). Greg was always the innovator. We had the Giro helmets. We were sure to be granted the best equipment available before everyone else.
GLF: You never used the Scott drop in bars?
EB: Of course, I did, but… That was ridiculous.
GLF: They looked cool.
EB: They looked cool but they were pointless. When you’re testing stuff, sometimes there’s a miss, it’s normal. You make mistakes. You have to try to be sure. It could look like folklore but it wasn’t. Greg really was on top of things regarding aerodynamics. It’s a thing watching triathletes; we’d all seen them, but to be the first to seize the potential… I thought those guys were just resting their shoulders because they had just swum! I’d never have thought it was for aerodynamics’s sake. But then again, triathlon was already big in the US.
GLF: Were you and Greg ever roommates?
EB: Oh yeah, sure! We were both messy. You could have tracked us to our beds: jersey, then shorts, then shoes and socks… We were stripping as soon as we entered the room. Duclos and Lemarchand could never have coped with such a mess. Then, there was the matter of the open window at night. Greg was always too hot at night and left the window open. He did it in the summer, which was fine. But he did it in winter too! He was naked on the bed with the window open. The guys were scared to catch a cold. I was Ok with it. Besides, we got along well.
GLF: Wasn’t he talking all the time?
EB: I don’t think so. He was going to sleep late, I did too when I was doing Ok. Maybe he was reading and I was watching the television. There was no internet and I could keep the remote for myself, although I liked to read too. That was convenient. On the Tour, he was on his own most of the time, since there were 9 of us. But as soon as someone quit, like Millar did in 1990, we were together. We also bought an extra room when there was one because his family was there, etc…
GLF: 3 words to describe Greg ?
EB: (thinks for a while)… Holy cow, that’s harsh, uh…?… Human… Loyal friend… And a great champion. That’s it.
We would like to express our many, many thanks to Eric Boyer for that wonderful moment. In our book, “human”, “loyal friend” and “a great champion” suits him very well too.