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The Road to Alpe d’Huez – Part III

As part of our June 2016 pilgrimage in the Alps, we will tell you the tale of Greg’s adventures on the most famous mountain of the Tour de France : Alpe d’Huez. This is part 3 of 3.

Part III : 1990-1991

For Greg LeMond, the 1990 Alpe d’Huez is all about team work. He is riding for Z. The yellow jersey is in the team and yet, Greg is wearing his rainbow world champion jersey. How could this be ? Fast rewind to the first stage of this Tour. A 4 riders break is allowed a 10’ margin. None of the leading teams has cared to pursue the fugitives. Nor the Castorama team who had won the yellow jersey the day before with Thierry Marie, nor the Z team of former winner Greg LeMond. How so ? For Greg, the answer is simple. Out of the 4 riders in the break, Greg has one teammate in Ronan Pensec and one of his best friends in Steve Bauer. This chase is definitely not his to engage. What’s really strange is the indifference of the other teams. Breukink’s PDM and Delgado’s Banesto fail to cooperate. The sprinters teams also let things go. They’ll say they didn’t want to ride ahead of a team time trial on the same day, in the afternoon. They do not realize how this move will shape the race for the 1990 Tour de France. A similar story had occured in 1984, but at the time, none of the escapees had any kind of Grand Tour general classification pedigree. Frans Maasen, winner that day, is no threat to anyone on GC. Not a climber by any means, he’ll vanish with the first mountain. It can’t be said of Ronan Pensec who was 6th in the 1986 Tour de France or Steve Bauer, 4th in the 1988 Tour. Letting them begin the race with a 10’ free powerup is dangerous. No one is really paying attention to the 4th guy, Claudio Chiappucci. He’s a decent climber but that’s it.
bauerpenseccrash
Steve Bauer wears the yellow jersey for a whole week, then Pensec takes it in the Alps, where Bauer starts to fade. Alpe d’Huez comes up on the 11th stage, on the 2nd day in the Alps. Greg LeMond is 8th at GC, Breukink is 10th, Delgado is even further. Alpe d’Huez is in fact the first true test for GC contenders.Greg LeMond crashes early in the stage but he doesn’t seem to be too badly hurt. He’s not letting anyone know, but in fact he dislocated one of his fingers. He’s putting it back in but still… That hurts.

The Z team is controlling the race. They’re at the front of the peloton. In the last few slopes of col du Glandon, Indurain and Delgado attack. Bugno catches them and Greg LeMond covers the break for the Z team. It’s a good scenario for Greg. He’s in the leading group but since his yellow jersey teammate is behind, he doesn’t have to contribute at the front. Indurain is in time trial mode and doing a lot of work for Delgado. They catch early attackers Eduardo Chozas and Thierry Claveyrolat in the valley. Further back in the peloton, the Z team can rest easy, as it’s not their job to chase LeMond. They let the PDM ride. It is indeed a good scenario.
delgadoleading
As soon as the first ramps of Alpe d’Huez show up, Delgado takes the lead. But it appears he’s not as strong as he thought he was. LeMond and Bugno have no trouble following him. A little further down the road, Robert Millar is helping Ronan Pensec. Not only is Delgado not dropping anyone anymore but he has to slow down. Claveyrolat comes back from behind. Bugno attacks but Greg LeMond makes it clear he will not allow anyone to drop him. 5km from the top, the leading group is only 45” ahead of Pensec and losing pace. So much so that Erik Breukink is able to catch up with the leaders.

There is a point when it seems that it will be a 3 men sprint : Breukink, Bugno and LeMond, but Claveyrolat and Delgado make their way back on the flat portion of the last kilometer. Greg wants this stage badly. He has good legs. He had the means to attack but didn’t want to jeopardize Pensec’s journey in the yellow jersey. All he has to do is make a good sprint. Greg knows the place quite well. He also knows he has a good jump and wants to be the first outside the last curve. Greg is in 2nd place and turns his head left and right, checking behind him. Bugno tries to surprise Greg in the interior. Greg makes his move but that’s when his finger reminds him it’s not quite as good as it should be. Greg misses the brakes and his rear wheel slips. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but this little grip loss cuts Greg’s speed a lot and all of a sudden, he’s not in the right gear for this sprint. Gianni Bugno’s specialty being those kinds of hilly sprints, he seizes the opportunity and passes Greg just inches away from the line and wins.
sprint
After the stage, GC shows Ronan Pensec still in yellow but Greg LeMond is now 3rd, less than 8 minutes behind Chiappucci now in 2nd place. Breukink, Bugno and Delgado stay behind Greg. After this stage, the Z team will keep on displaying its tactics against Chiappucci, recovering more than 5 minutes two days later at St Etienne, then the rest (bar 5”) at Luz Ardiden. The final ITT will be the last nail on Chiappucci’s coffin and Greg will win his 3rd Tour de France. Greg’s climbing time for Alpe d’Huez in 1990 : 45’45”.

Greg LeMond is anxious when he enters the first few slopes of Alpe d’Huez in 1991. After a strong debut in the Tour which saw him wear the yellow jersey for 5 days, he receded abruptly on the Tourmalet on stage 13. The Val Louron climb that ended the stage looked like a calvary. For the first time since his first win in 1986, it seems Greg LeMond might not be able to win. But he’s not giving up without a fight. He attacks the day before Huez, en route to Gap and grabs a few seconds. Greg fails to win the stage but he has an important message to send “I’m not dead yet”.

Stage 17 starts with two category 2 climbs. It’s a fairly easy start that suggests Alpe d’Huez will be violent. An usually big peloton begins the climb and Greg is dropped quickly on the brutal first few grades. He fights bravely as his excellent time of 42’23” (his best yet) suggests but he is no match for the 1991 Tour de France leaders.  As he crosses the line 2 minutes after Gianni Bugno, Greg LeMond probably wonders what he did wrong within the last 12 months… In fact, he’ll think about it all night and the following day he’ll have a major failure. He’ll shed a few tears, realizing he’s unable to keep up and ride by his own standards. It is only the start of a long way down.

Alpe d’Huez is, maybe more than any other place, a symbol of Greg LeMond’s highs and lows. Let’s hope we will meet the former rather than the latter when we get there.


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The Road to Alpe d’Huez – Part II

As part of our June 2016 pilgrimage in the Alps, we will tell you the tale of Greg’s adventures on the most famous mountain of the Tour de France : Alpe d’Huez. This is part 1 of 3.

Part II : 1989

The 1989 Tour de France is the story of two come-backs. After winning the Tour twice, in 1983 and 1984, Laurent Fignon underwent surgery on his ankle. He was never the same after that. For 4 years he’s been able to win on and off but unable to sustain a constant form. 1989 sees him win both Milan-San Remo and the Giro. Fignon is back. Big time.

Greg LeMond is coming back from injury too. He was accidentally shot in the back by his brother in law in a turkey hunt in april 1987. His chest remains riddled with lead pellets. 30 of them. Since then, he’s been struggling to be his former self again, to no avail. So far.

Greg is once again wearing the yellow jersey when the peloton presents itself at the start of stage 17. Competition is fierce. Both he and Fignon are in opposition of styles. Greg is the time trialist. His team is non-existing. He took the jersey after both the Rennes and the Orcières-Merlette time trials. In between stood the Pyrénées. That’s where Laurent Fignon figured he could attack and grab the yellow jersey back. And he did, at Superbagnères. Only for LeMond to take it back again on the climbing ITT at Orcières-Merlette. At this point,, LeMond and Fignon are 53 seconds apart. That’s the maximum they’ve been since the start of the race. There’s only 3 more mountain stages, in the Alps, and then a final ITT in Paris. For both riders, things have to happen sooner rather than later. Alpe d’Huez should be where the decisive move takes place.

Laurent Fignon is determined. He wants to fight. Greg LeMond is cautious. He’s still unsure about his ability to sustain a 3 weeks effort. He has not been able to do so since his winning 1986 Tour. “If I can manage to follow Fignon until the foot of Alpe d’Huez, I should be fine. I can afford to lose 1 minute at the top. I’m confident I can take some time in the last ITT.”.
alpe part II 89 exhausted
The foot of Alpe d’Huez is precisely where Laurent Fignon decides to get rid of Greg LeMond. He’s had enough of him. He considers him a wheelsucker. He wants to show him who truly deserves the yellow jersey. “I attacked as if the finish line was just up the corner” he would say later on. The effects are devastating. Instantly, the two dozen riders that were in the group are all over the place. Legs are burning. But as soon as Fignon thinks he’s put a major hit in Greg LeMond’s face, the American counter attacks. This is brutal. Soon, both riders stand exhausted in the middle of the road, each of them trying to catch his breath. This is not gonna work. None of them seems to be on a higher ground.

So they wait. Most of the climb is done in a small group : LeMond, Fignon, Delgado and his aide Rondon. The pace is steady. Nobody dares to attack, fearing a counter-attack. In fact, the struggle is taking place just a few meters behind. The team cars are right behind the group. Inside are Greg’s coach, José de Cauwer and Laurent’s coach, Cyrille Guimard. Guimard knows LeMond really well since he coached team in his first few years as a pro. And he can tell Greg is not well. There’s something in his body language… Signs. It sets an alarm in Guimard’s brain. He has to tell Laurent. But in order to do so, he must get in front of De Cauwer’s car. Team cars are placed in the order of the rider’s GC position. Greg is #1, Fignon #2. It’s not easy to pass a car on Alpe d’Huez. The crowd is everywhere. The path is narrow. De Cauwer is not helping. The belgian has seen Greg is about to turn the lights off. They spend a few minutes like this, bumper to bumper. Guimard finally reaches Fignon. There are 6km left. “You have to attack, he’s cooked !” yells Cyrille. “I’m cooked as well !” is Fignon’s desperate answer.

The “5km” sign passes… Soon they will be 4km from the top. It’s better to attack when the grades are high if you want to make a difference, and there is a flat in the last kilometer. Soon it will be too late. Greg LeMond is on the verge of collapsing. He’s more than happy to be standing in this group at this point. He’s trying to hide his loss of power. Barely. “It’s now or never !” shouts Guimard one last time.

Fignon attacks under the “4km” banner. He still has some juice left. Delgado is having a hard time keeping up. Greg is… Glued to the tarmac. For a few seconds he can barely stand on the bike. This is not a pretty sight.

When he realizes he has left LeMond behind, Fignon feels his strengths coming back him, as if he had begged some bike god to answer his prayers. He seems to be flying. In pain, but flying nonetheless.
alpe part II 89 dropped
Left for dead, Greg LeMond gathers his very last coins to buy a few powerups. It’s not game over yet. He knows he can make it to the top and limit his losses if he holds together. Greg can barely hold his chin up and watch in front of him. Every movement seems to be putting him in an enormous pain. It’s there, when he’s so close to be put out of the race for GC that he has to have faith. Keep pushing, no matter what.

When he finally reaches the finish line, Greg LeMond is 1’19” down of Fignon. This is the biggest gap of the whole race between the two. The last few hundred meters were agony. Greg kept lifting his butt off the saddle, only to sit back down… And up again. Never giving up.
alpe part II 89 finish
Alpe d’Huez 1989 is Laurent Fignon at his finest. His attack not only leaves LeMond behind, but he nearly drops Pedro Delgado as well. That day is the 3rd time Fignon takes the yellow jersey at Alpe d’Huez. He remembers that and sees it as a sign. He won the Tour twice this way. It could be his 3rd. Laurent Fignon is now 26” ahead of Greg LeMond at GC. He feels confident it should be enough for a 24km ITT but he wants to try and make the best out of the last few stages.

In the following stage at Villard de Lans, Fignon will indeed take 24” more and win the stage. Both he and Greg will sprint for the win at Aix les Bains the day after that, the American claiming the stage. Of course, by now you probably know about how Greg won that Tour for 8 seconds. What I find most noticeable about that small gap is that it proves a 3 weeks race is won a little bit everyday. Had he snapped a tad more on Alpe d’Huez, Greg LeMond would not have won the Tour. The day he lost 1’19” is in fact the day he did not lose more… And contributed the most to his big win. You know that saying about losing a battle, but not the war ? Right.


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The Road to Alpe d’Huez – Part I

As part of our June 2016 pilgrimage in the Alps, we will tell you the tale of Greg’s adventures on the most famous mountain of the Tour de France : Alpe d’Huez. This is part 1 of 3.

Part I : 1984-1986

In 1984, Greg LeMond is a rookie. This is his first ever Tour de France and he has never finished a 3 weeks race before. His previous attempt, the 1983 Vuelta, back when the Vuelta took place in April, saw him quit on stage 17, sick. However, his overall qualities and reigning world champion status make him a serious contender. Many journalists even consider him their favorite. Hinault is still recovering from a knee surgery the year before. He has a big question mark on his forehead. Laurent Fignon, Tour de France winner in 1983, is seen as a bit too soft to last.

The first week of the Tour sets the tone : LeMond and Fignon’s Renault team makes a hold up. This is payback for Hinault’s desertion (he left the team in 1983). Marc Madiot wins stage 2, the bee-like jerseys win the team time trial on stage 3, Vincent Barteau takes the yellow jersey with a 17 minutes margin on stage 5… Then Fignon hammers down the first individual time trial (stage 7), before his buddy Pascal Jules steals the show on stage 8.

Where is Greg LeMond ? After a brief interlude with the red jersey (now gone, the red jersey stood for in-race sprints classification), Greg is struggling with bronchitis. On stage 11, stunned by heat and unable to breathe, he tears his jersey apart to ease the pain. Greg is down 4 and a half minutes on Fignon and half as much on Hinault. He’s barely in the top 10 and losing time a little bit every day.
alpe part I 84 bronchitisWeek 2 sees the Renault team grab stages 12 (Poisson), 13 (Menthéour) and 16 (Fignon, for another ITT). Stage 17 is Alpe d’Huez. This is where Greg LeMond starts making his way back up the classification. He’s wearing the white jersey, the “best young rookie” jersey, but only because his teammate Vincent Barteau cannot wear both the yellow and the white jersey at the same time. Colombian « pocket climber » Luis Herrera throws himself in an heroic and lonely breakaway. Behind him, all hell breaks loose. Hinault, being already 3 minutes down on Fignon, senses he doesn’t stand a chance at breaking him if he attacks in a conventional way. Everyone underestimated the blonde Parisian. When Hinault surprises the riders with an attack in the valley, Fignon smiles… He knows the Badger is bluffing. At the foot of Alpe d’Huez, Fignon calmly passes Hinault as if he weren’t there. Checkmate.
alpe part I 84 alpe
Just seconds behind this duo, Greg LeMond stands in a chasing group. The more they climb, the better he feels. He lets the pure climbers go but as far as general classification goes, he’s the toughest behind Fignon (unreachable that year). On top of the mountain, Laurent Fignon does as he had done in 1983, he takes the yellow jersey at Alpe d’Huez. He’s on his way to won the Tour. Greg crosses the line in 6th place with a sigh of relief. He’s back on track. His white jersey is once again ripped off on the chest. It was hard but Alpe d’Huez has given him his strength back. 8th at GC in the morning, LeMond leaves Huez in the top 5, eventually reaching the 3rd spot of the podium in Paris, thanks to a very strong 3rd week. He’s confident he can do better than this.

When Greg LeMond reaches Alpe d’Huez for a second time, in 1986, he is wearing the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. And boy, was it hard to take it off Bernard Hinault’s shoulders ! It’s the Badger’s last Tour and he’s not giving up without a fight. Greg and Bernard are once again in the same team but things are not going as well as Greg had foreseen. The team is doing great in terms of results but it’s torn apart. There is Greg’s camp. There is Hinault’s camp. There are 2 swiss riders in the middle, trying to remain neutral. At the start of stage 17 of the 1986 Tour de France, Greg LeMond is in the lead. Hinault is 3rd at 2’47’’. In between stands tall climber Urs Zimmermann from Switzerland. He’s doing good but he is very isolated. He stands at 2’24’’. It’s the last mountain stage of the Tour. It won’t be long, now. As he had done in 1984, Hinault attacks when no-one expects him to. He’ll say he did it to get Zimmermann out of the woods. He wants his opponents to chase him. But in 1986, the peloton knows better than to go after the mighty Badger. It all looks too familiar for Greg LeMond. That’s exactly how Hinault took the yellow jersey with a 5 minutes lead earlier in the Tour. Taking Zimmermann by surprise at the feed zone, LeMond catches Hinault. Both leaders can proceed and crush the Swiss. It’s them Vs Urs. In the Col de Croix de Fer, they maintain a average pace. They want Zimmermann to believe he can come back and spend a lot of energy. Once it’s done they use the boosters. They reach the top at a steady pace and throw themselves in a solid descent. At the foot of Alpe d’Huez, Urs Zimmermann is 5 minutes behind the duo. He’s done.
alpe part I 86 croix descent
It becomes clear that not only the stage but also the Tour will be decided on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez. Greg LeMond is almost 3’ ahead of Hinault at GC. He’s happy with how things turn out, confident he can keep the Badger under his foot. He’s also concerned the crowd would not be happy to see him drop a french legend. Things ain’t too bad for Hinault, either. He’s had a rough week, losing time a little bit every day since his initial hold up. Leading LeMond up Alpe d’Huez is a nice symbol and gives the impression he’s still on top of things.

The last few hundred meters of the stage are historical. Never in the past had we seen the 2 strongest riders of the Tour arrive hand in hand as a sign of truce. It’s unexpected and could only have happened with true champions. Some will say that gesture lacks sincerity. I strongly disagree. In an ocean of bitterness, this might be the most genuine and affectionate gesture of that whole race. Hinault and LeMond were not meant to coexist. They were different on a lot of levels and core values, but… They both recognized each other’s strength and respected it. The victory at Alpe d’Huez is a celebration of that mutual respect. Everything that comes before or after that is irrelevant.
alpe part I 86 finish
For the record, after Huez, Zimmermann is set back 7’41’’ from LeMond at GC. He manages to climb Alpe d’Huez roughly at the same pace as the La Vie Claire duo who does a 48 minutes climb. That relatively slow performance proves that no battle occurred on that climb. It had already been done on Croix de Fer. Greg LeMond wins the 1986 Tour de France and fulfils his destiny, confirming he is indeed one of cycling’s finest.

For more details on what happened within the La Vie Claire team in the years 1985-1986, we suggest you read those earlier entries :

https://greglemondfans.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/lemondhinault-the-1985-1986-controversy/

https://greglemondfans.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/la-vie-pas-claire/


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A stage in the Tour – Jaca – Val Louron 1991

“A little death, with no mourning. No call, no warning.” – U2-Love is blindness

The 1991 Tour de France had had a strange start. Greg LeMond had attacked on the first stage, after reaching 3rd place in the prologue, which granted him the yellow jersey. He had made his point: he was there to win, his shape was not as bad as people thought and he could, indeed, attack. He needed to sweep the criticism his 1990 tour win had brought. Many observers had been vocal about the Tour winner not winning a stage that year and wearing the yellow jersey only for the last day.

However, wearing the yellow jersey so soon was a burden LeMond could do without and when the Ariostea team claimed it for Sorensen after the TTT, it suited the Z team just fine. Greg LeMond even refused to dress in yellow when Sorensen broke his collarbone in Valenciennes. It was then for Thierry Marie to grab.
val louron yellow
On stage 8, the first ITT saw Greg take the yellow jersey back with a solid advantage at GC : Breukink at 1’13, Indurain at 2’17, Bugno at 3’51, Leblanc at 4’20… Never in his Tour career had Greg LeMond been so well placed so early in the race. Most people thought the race was over. At this point, Greg’s Tour palmares left little doubt : 3rd in 1984, 2nd in 1985, winner in 1986, 1989 and 1990. Apart for the « learning years » and « gunshot recovery years », where he was a no-show, he was basically undefeated in this race. And he was renown for making slow starts and a very strong last week. The Z team was seen as one of the best Grand Tour teams. Piece of cake, we all thought.

Strike 1 occurred en route to Jaca, the first mountain stage. The Castorama team took advantage of having two GC contenders (Leblanc and Fignon) to throw Luc Leblanc up front. He did it successfully, taking the yellow. Back in the peloton, Greg LeMond was strangely isolated, his team nowhere to be seen. The PDM team, that had been so useful in controlling the race in 1989 & 1990, had vanished during the first week, put down by a so-called « virus » (fancy new name for « I left my PEDs too long out of the fridge before injection »).

Not only Greg was on his own, but he lacked confidence too. After the race, he complained about the lack of cooperation from other leaders (except Gianni Bugno) in chasing Luc Leblanc and stage winner Charly Mottet. It was not in Greg’s habits to panic and his opponents were just too happy to let the yellow jersey take charge. In fact, Greg’s behavior was a sign, and not a particularly good one.
val louron jaca
Eric Boyer (Greg teammate and 6th in the Giro that year) told us about that evening when we interviewed him last summer : « Greg was angry at us, angry at everyone but he was never mean. He said : « 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. ». ». To put it in Eric Boyer’s words : the 1991 Z team was no good. Maybe just a tad less good than in 1990 but it made a world of difference.

Strike 2 happened the following day. It was THE great Pyrenean stage with no less than 5 climbs in 232km. Feeling he might not last for the whole stage, Greg launched an attack in the first half of the Tourmalet (3rd climb of the day). He was bluffing. It did not work well. Delgado and Fignon were dropped but so was Eric Boyer, his faithful teammate. Greg was left with Indurain, Bugno, Hampsten, Leblanc (in yellow), Chiappucci and Rué. The American did not look too great, either; his jersey was wide open and his eyes seemed to be far too deep down into their orbits.

It’s in the last 500m of the Tourmalet that the planet of cycling shifted on its axis for good. Out of juice, Greg LeMond stalled as he had done on l’Alpe d’Huez in 1989. Not a pretty sight. Just a handful of seconds away, Chiappucci and Indurain had gone. They had sensed the shift. And just like that, things changed forever.

val louron dropped
Watching the Val Louron stage, for us Greg LeMond Fans, is like watching the Titanic. You know the story by heart, you know for a fact the bloody ship is gonna sink but when the sailors ring the bell you still hope they’re not gonna hit the iceberg. But they do. Every. Single. Time. Even writing this article is painful. I’ve escaped from it for the last 6 months, telling my GLF friends I’m gonna do it. I don’t want to. But I kind of need to.

From that point on, the situation kept going worse and worse. Greg lost time as the Titanic’s cargo hold was irremediably flooded. After Tourmalet came Aspin. It appeared that Greg’s failing was not to be temporary. A stupid accident occurred when the Gatorade team car hit Greg from behind, pushing him to the ground. It didn’t really matter. For a split second, Greg LeMond looked like he was relieved, not having to push the pedals anymore. He was sitting on the road and maybe it meant less suffering. But reflexes came quick and he got back on the saddle, only for more pain to kick in.

A life jacket came in the shape of Eric Boyer, in the valley leading to the last climb, Val-Louron. « I had been right behind Greg the whole time ! ». He told us, reliving it as if it was yesterday. The Titanic metaphor worked well on Boyer too, as he spoke as if there was still a chance to turn the tide « Had I been there in Aspin… We now know that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference because Greg wasn’t good anyway, but still… ».
val louron boyer
Boyer heroically dragged Greg atop Val Louron, only to measure the vastness of the damage done; more than 7 minutes lost on Indurain & Chiappucci. He was now 5’ down at GC. More worrying was his face at the finish. His skin was white, his gaze was lifeless. It was just not a healthy face. Sometimes, when a rider cracks you can read exhaustion, anger or frustration on his face but Greg looked sick, as if a vampire had drank all his blood out of him.

Much has been said about 1991 as the rise of EPO and it is true to some extent, but in Greg LeMond’s case, 1991 marks the point of no return. This is when his body stopped being able to contain the lead that remains in his body since that hunting accident in 1987. This is when the machine that made Greg so great turned against him as the more he trained, the more poison got into his system. « Greg’s problem was very atypical. It had never been seen. His body was starting to react in the worst possible way to training. We wouldn’t know exactly for another 3 years. Greg still had lead pellets from his hunting accident, in his chest. In his heart ! It was poisoning him, little by little until it reached his mitochondria. It was a form of myopathy. » said Boyer.

Considering this, the 1991 Tour de France is not as bad as it looks. Greg LeMond achieved some solid time-trialling that year and reached the 7th place at GC. Certainly not enough by his own standards but given his condition and the magic potion used by some… Nothing to be ashamed of, really. I’m not even mentioning the chivalry shown by Greg on the last few stages, attacking every day until the Champs Elysées, because that’s another story.

Watch our movie about this stage here.


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Eric Boyer interview – Part III

“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.
boyer giro 91
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.
jaca val louron
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?

GLF: 7th.
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.
boyer 92 blog
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.
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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.
boyer innovation
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.
nicolas boyer
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.

Don’t forget to read Part I and Part II of this interview.


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Eric Boyer interview – Part II

“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.
boyer intro 88
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.
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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.
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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.
richest man
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.

To be continued in Part III
Part I can be found here


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Eric Boyer interview – Part I

“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 I – “Greg is being naive if he thinks he is safe from Hinault”

This July is the 25th anniversary of Greg LeMond’s 3rd and last victory in the Tour de France. Quite an achievement in itself, it’s also an unusual victory for Greg. Because, whereas his previous wins were obtained on his own or inside a divided team (US teams at the worlds, ADR, La Vie Claire), the 1990 title is the result of collective work.

We’ve been wanting to meet with Eric Boyer for a long time. His insights and strong opinions are relevant on multiple levels. First, although a bit younger, he is a contemporary of Greg’s. He can testify of the habits and customs of his era. Greg & Eric wore the same jersey between 1990 and 1994. Second, He worked for both Cyrille Guimard and Roger Legeay who coached Greg LeMond at pivotal moments in his career. Third, he is quite the accomplished rider himself, having finished at 5th place in the 1988 Tour de France, 6th in the 1991 Giro d’Italia, winning stages there and taking the pink jersey for a day. Fourth, he is an articulate and passionate individual : he coached the Cofidis team for a few years and he is now consultant for “L’Equipe TV”, the only free sport broadcaster in France. This is in fact where we meet, at the “L’Equipe” headquarters in Boulogne, south west of Paris.
boyer banner
We expected Eric Boyer to be nice and interesting. We did not expect him to be so generous with his time. For half a day he took us on a Tour of the “L’Equipe” building, home of the newspaper & TV network, as well as Vélo Magazine. Eric Boyer talks a lot, as he has a message to deliver. He’s been on each side of the cycling business and he wants to share what he has learned. Expect no tongue in cheek. He’ll say all.

We came to talk about Greg LeMond and the 1990 Tour de France. We ended up being taught a valuable, genuine and undisputable cycling lesson. The discussion went way past this sole subject. It was too good not to be shared.

Eric fell in love with cycling very early on. Born in 1963, his family week-ends were spent watching his father race, having a picnic on the typical circuits in some remote but charming village, south of Paris. His brother and him were hooked on while they were young. When they asked to race themselves, their father instructed them to wait a few more years, so that they could build their bodies in order to endure the roughness of cycling. They also learned patience and strategy in the process. In his first year as a young rider, Eric was allowed to ride 8 races, 16 the second year, and so on. Progress was the keyword.

GLF: How did you become a pro?
EB: At the age of 17, I started to find that most races looked alike. I thought about which of them were the most challenging. The championships came up: county, region, nationals, worlds… You had to qualify for each one, in this order, be among the best each time to qualify for the next. I thought the worlds were inaccessible. I wanted to target those races, be prepared. At the time you had to buy books that were where the knowledge was. No internet. I bought Robert Leroux’s book. He was Hinault’s coach in his early years. That’s where I learned about interval training. We were in 1980 and it taught me to do some research. I wasn’t sure about what I was doing but it worked: I was 6th at the county race, 2nd at the region race and 3rd at the nationals. I was doing my stuff on my own, I was among the first ones to train like this but it worked. It didn’t work at the worlds because the french team staff planned some heavy lifting when I needed a rest. How could they have known? I wasn’t going to try and teach them a lesson.

GLF: They would have thought « Who does he think he is, this one? »
EB: Exactly. After this I insisted on racing the Ruban Granitier Breton. It was one of the toughest amateur races at the time (GLF: it is the same race where Greg LeMond was spotted by one Cyrille Guimard a few years earlier, actually). You could race against the Russians, East Germans, Polish… I wanted to evaluate my level, in order to progress. Everybody thought I was mad but they let me go anyway. I won the 2nd stage! I wore the leader’s jersey! The french team then took me to the Tour du Limousin where I reached 3rd place, the Tour de l’Avenir where I almost won a stage. Instantly, I had Bernard Thévenet (La Redoute), Paul Koechli (La Vie Claire), Cyrille Guimard (Renault), Boishardy (Wolber) trying to have me sign a contract. I was 19, going on 20… It was a no-brainer! Renault was the best team in the world! Guimard was the best coach in town.

GLF: It was a no-brainer all right.
EB: Hinault had just left, LeMond was leaving too (GLF: it was during the 1984/1985 winter) but Fignon had just won the Tour de France twice, there was Madiot and Mottet. They’d won 10 stages during the last Tour! Every rider on the team had won one except rookie Yvon Madiot and Greg LeMond… Funny story: I had applied at Renault. Not the team, but the company! I was looking for a part time job to help out my parents and keep training. But the human resources employee read that I was riding and hoping to make it to the pro level, so she sent it to… Cyrille Guimard! I’m at home with my parents, the phone rings, my mother picks it up and it’s Cyrille Guimard! I apologize and I tell him I don’t think I’m ready yet; I’m just looking for a part-time job. He goes like « This is great, this is absolutely what you should do! ». It was 6 months before the Ruban Granitier Breton. So, when he contacts me again during the Tour du Limousin, he says « Was it you, last winter, looking for a job at Renault? ». Life is full of surprises.
boyer intro
Left: Boyer in 1985. Middle: Eric doing cyclocross. Right: Prologue Tour de France 1986

GLF: What is it like, at Renault?
EB: Well, you had to earn a spot, you know. Riders today say it’s hard, but… In THAT team? For the first training camp I stay in bed with a fever. That’s rough. I hang on the following months and I’m doing reasonably well. Guimard calls me up to help out Marc Madiot at Paris-Roubaix. He knew I’d been 2nd at a cyclocross championship. I say « No problem. ». It’s a hard race but I’m feeling good. I notice that Marc is standing behind the peloton and I offer to take him back up since we’re closing in on the cobblestones: « What are you doing here? », I say. I bring him back and try to catch my breath. At this very moment there is a huge crash! I lift up my head. I see Marc passing by. He and 20 other riders get away like that.

GLF: Mission accomplished.
EB: I do another 50km and I quit. At the hotel, I turn on the TV and Marc wins. (GLF: Renault team mate Bruno) Wojtinek is 2nd. I’m in.

GLF: When you’re in your first year at Renault, what do people say about Greg LeMond?
EB: There is a bit of nostalgia for people like Vincent Barteau. They liked him. Of course, it’s more convenient for Fignon to be the only leader in the team but there’s no animosity. Apparently, everyone was getting along with Greg, they weren’t speaking ill of him. I think Guimard regretted him. He blamed Bernard Tapie (GLF: La Vie Claire team sponsor) for having the salaries blown up. Every rider was better for it. My rookie salary went up although I had not won a race, only because the salaries of the big stars had gone up too. Guimard felt like being ripped off by Tapie. I think Guimard would have offered the same money to Greg if he had had the budget for it.

GLF: There were words too. Apparently, Guimard said something to Greg, like: « If you leave, you’ll never win the Tour! »
EB: That was Guimard’s strategy, to scare the riders. He had just won the Tour with Fignon. He had a big ego because he knew too well he was the best in this sport. He couldn’t imagine someone existing without him. That was his weakness. Greg was only the second, after Hinault, to dare and speak on the same tone as he did. « I’m not scared of you, we’ll see what happens. ». That was upsetting, for him. That was an issue.

GLF: You make your Tour de France debut in 1986. Renault is now Système U. Fignon is in good shape after a rather good Dauphiné. The French press is making headlines about a new Hinault/Fignon duel. The team time trial comes and… You beat the shit out of everyone.
EB: Everyone, including the Panasonic team. That’s my one and only stage win in the Tour de France. To be honest, we were perfect on that day. Relays were efficient; as soon as a rider felt good he was taking a longer relay, without accelerating. Of course we entered the red zone in the last 5 or 6km but it was linear, no timeout. Here’s a little story: we had gone warming up further up a hill and we got lost, somehow. Clock was ticking and we had to come back. We ended up on the highway with a long and fast descent on our way back to the starting line. Guimard and Quilfen had the team cars, one at the front and one behind us. People were taking pictures of us from their cars, as they were passing us. Because we were so late, we ended up going 100km/h!
systeme u boyer
Left: Eric Boyer leading the Système U team during the team time trial in the 1986 Tour de France. Right: Eric just after the team time trial.

GLF: With the Deltas?
EB: With the Deltas! The bikes were shaking… We arrived 10 minutes before the start, just grabbed a towel and off we went! We were very warm! We started very fast and managed to keep the rhythm until the end. This might be why we won. And not by a second, we won with a 2 minutes margin. We were so proud, showing off a bit. Thierry Marie already had the yellow jersey since he had won the prologue. I took the white jersey, the rookie jersey.

GLF: At that moment, do you think the team can win the Tour with Fignon? It’s looking good for him until the first ITT when he get crushed.
EB: I wasn’t supposed to ride the Tour. At the time there were 10 riders in each team and we had so many injured people in ours that we had to hire 2 extras just in time for the Tour: Biondi and Gavillet. We did a training camp in the Col de Mente but these 2 didn’t. They didn’t last for long. I had done the Vuelta in April. I had finished it completely exhausted. Guimard told me: « I’ve had to hire new guys for the Tour. Just come with us and do what you can. ». I was in my 2nd year as a pro, it was my first Tour, and he could as well have shot me dead. Anyway… I finished it, but at what price! I thought my career was over. Parenthesis closed… Yeah, we thought we had a good shot with Fignon. But then he had a bad day at the ITT. Not doing any good. He quit after the first mountain stage in Pau.

GLF: In retrospect, do you think Hinault actually let LeMond win that year?
EB: No, absolutely not. I remember Bernard blowing up the race in Pau. Delgado wins the stage; Hinault takes the yellow jersey with a 5-6 minutes lead. He has won the Tour. He just has to follow, there’s still an ITT in St Etienne. At Pau, in the evening, everybody thinks the race is over, Hinault’s gonna win the Tour. The following day, the whole peloton is on its way to the start of the race, we’re riding. Hinault stands 10m before the rest of us and says: « When the race starts, I attack ». We laugh. And when the race starts, he attacks! A bunch of guys go with him. In the Tourmalet, there’s only one left (GLF: ex team mate) Dominique Arnaud. He says to Hinault: « Be careful, you have a 5 minutes lead, maybe you don’t need to do this? ». Hinault replies « Don’t worry; I’m a strong guy… », and all that. Typical Bernard. We pass Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde… Comes Superbagnères and Bernard is stuck. Zimmermann does all the work to catch him. We don’t have earpieces. Greg & Zimmermann catch Hinault, they pass him. There’s no way Greg is gonna wait on Bernard after that. He then rides for himself.

GLF: And he wins at Superbagnères.
EB: The way I see it, Bernard wins the Tour in Pau and loses it the following day. I’ve never seen Greg riding against Bernard. Never. Between the Pyrénées and the Alps there’s not much going on, but then there is the Granon stage. I feel very good on that day! I’m in the col d’Izoard in a 15 people strong group, including Greg LeMond and Zimmermann. Zimmermann pushes hard. Hinault is 2 or 3 minutes behind. The swiss wants to isolate Greg. Greg stays on his wheel. He never helps Zimmermann. I am dropped at the foot of the Granon and I am caught by Hinault. I stay with him for 1km. You can look at the footage: you can never see Greg riding against Hinault. Never. The day after that is l’Alpe d’Huez where Greg and Bernard end up arm in arm. Bernard sets the pace and Greg stays beside him. Greg always said to me he could have attacked but Hinault told him: « Stay behind, I set the pace and we win together. ». Knowing Greg, he’s an honest man and he admires Hinault. He just says Ok. You get the feeling Hinault is dragging Greg, but it is in fact Greg staying put, because he was told they’d stay together. Greg is smart. He’s thinking « Why attack? Zimmermann is out, I won, might as well stay with Hinault. ». He offers the stage win to Hinault, which is fair. Tour de France is over. But then, in front of the cameras, 5 times Tour winner Hinault won’t admit this is over. He says « You know, I stayed with Greg… ». Everyone suggests he could have dropped him. He doesn’t deny. He doesn’t say he could have, but he doesn’t deny. He implies he was the strongest. We’re dealing with strong egos, there. Hinault suggests he « offered » the Tour to Greg, well (he laughs)… I always thought Hinault lost the Tour at Superbagnères.
downhill greg boyer
Left: Eric Boyer riding just in front of Greg.

GLF: That’s also what Jean-François Bernard thinks. He thinks Hinault wanted to go on a last big bang, being his last Tour and all…
EB: Maybe he was influenced by Bernard Tapie too. But if Cyrille Guimard had been his coach on that day, in Pau, he would never have done that. He would have won his 6th Tour.

GLF: Except… If Guimard had been LeMond’s coach, he would never have let Hinault go in the first place.
EB: That too, yeah.

GLF: When Hinault attacks, Greg doesn’t know about it. They didn’t communicate about it. Maybe this is where the scam lies.
EB: At this point, this is where the race starts. I don’t see anything wrong. The first to draw wins.

GLF: That’s true.
EB: Greg is trapped by his own naivety. Bernard is experienced. Greg is being naive if he thinks he is safe from Hinault. You can’t blame Bernard. He makes sure he’s taking the lead. It’s not a scam. It’s a good trap.

GLF: I talked with Hinault in 2008. It was just when it was announced Armstrong would come back to ride the Tour in the Astana team, with Contador. When I asked him about that, his reply was instant. He said: « It’s simple; you have to be the first of the team to take the yellow jersey. After this, anyone from the team attacking you is a traitor. ». Then I asked him if that was what he did with LeMond, he said: « Nooooooooo…. » (laughs)
EB: Although that’s precisely what he did. Greg learned a hard lesson in Pau. It’s fair game. I can see why Greg would think it’s not fair but I think it is.

To be continued in Part II.


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Pretty in pink

By Nicolas Lelièvre and Thierry Mertens

The Tour de France is the biggest cycling event in the world. That’s for sure. No other race can be compared with the 3 week circus that is being held in the most beautiful regions in and right by the borders of France. The sun-like yellow jersey is an icon for every cycling fan. The History of the Tour, filled with twisted events, myths, heroic figures and treacherous villains. This is legendary.

Believe it or not, it actually took quite a while before the Tour de France became really popular in some European countries, even those who have a big cycling tradition. Belgium, Holland and of course France were the biggest TDF audience for television in the 70’s and 80’s, but Italy and Spain weren’t that much into it. Somehow Italian and Spanish newspapers weren’t paying that much attention to “La Grande Boucle”. I remember the 1989 Tour de France. The most exciting ever. La Gazetta dello Sport, Italy’s number 1 sports newspaper, wasn’t making a big coverage. One, sometimes two pages a day. Even the final time trial in Paris was only granted a small portion of the front page, nothing more. Why? Well, first there were more popular sports in those countries like football (soccer) and basketball. But also… both Spain and Italy already had their own “Grand Tour”. In Spain twas the Vuelta, in Italy was the Giro. Reading La Gazetta dello Sport during the Giro could make you feel like there was no other sport than cycling in Italy. A very different feel than july. La Gazetta was also the main sponsor of the Giro back in the 80’s and 90’s. The pink used for the leader’s jersey was the same as the Gazetta’s pages. Just like the French yellow had been picked after the color of “L’Auto”, ancestor of “L’Equipe”, historical founding organization of the Tour de France.
pretty in pink newspapers
The Giro is popular in Italy, and it is big in the peloton too. Riders like Hinault, Bugno, Saronni, Merkcx, Moser, Indurain… won the Giro several times. It’s a hard and beautiful race with even steeper and more spectacular mountains than at the Tour de France. What decent cycling nut has not heard about the Stelvio, Gavia, Mortirolo or Tre Cime de Lavaredo?

Greg LeMond rode the Giro several times. He just loved racing in Italy. He felt a strong affinity for the tiny roads, postcard landscapes, the passion of fans. There were other races too, like Milan San Remo, the Giro di Lombardia, Tirreno Adriatico or the Sicilian cycling week.

Greg first went to the Giro in 1985. He was riding for the French La Vie Claire team at the time, supporting team leader Bernard Hinault. At the time it was not unreasonable to attempt winning both the Tour and the Giro in the same season. That was Hinault’s goal, as he had done it in 1982 already.

His biggest obstacle was the title defendant : Italian champion Francesco Moser who had won the race in 1984. The Italians wanted their hero to win at any cost and in 84 Italian chief organizer, Mr Torriani, had made sure he would… cancelling a mountain stage for no good reason, sending the Rai TV choppers in front of his French opponent Laurent Fignon… Moser was an awesome time trialist (he was holding the hour record at the time) but not the best of climbers and, well… Not the best sport, either. Consequently, the 3 weeks trip in Lo Stivale(the Boot) the nickname for the Italian peninsula, was flatter than ever and offered 3 time trials. Race was in fact tailor-made for Lo sceriffo, the Sherrif as Moser was called.
pretty in pink 1985
The dynamic La Vie Claire duo had a tough first week. Moser went fast in the prologue and became the pink leader for the first weekend. And when Moser lost his jersey it was only for yet another Italian to take. Giuseppe Sarronni took the lead after winning the team time trial with his Del Tongo squad. But soon the pink story of Saronni was over, right after the first mountain stage to Val Gardena. A young Italian playboy, Roberto Visentini, made for a new pinky favorite. The La Vie Claire camp wasn’t impressed as Hinault and LeMond were taking back time on Moser with each climb. The badger set things clear in the first time trial by beating Moser by almost a minute. He was no Fignon, he was quite the time trialist himself. Greg was right behind Moser. As a result, Hinault was now in pink, Moser 2nd place and Greg 3rdin the general classification. A Moser sandwich.

The cards were on the table, the rules of the La Vie Claire team were simple. Hinault to control Moser and LeMond to control the rest. And so it happened. Both riders took command of the whole race and Hinault’s lead was never threatened. The French-American coalition had done it together for the first time.

The next year Greg came back to Italy. He was a stronger rider and ready to win the race for himself, as Hinault wasn’t there. But competition was fierce. The Italian champions, Moser and Visentini, had ticked the Giro as the most important race of the season in their agenda. Greg was the leader of the team for the first time, with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. A good test on his way to win the Tour de France.
pretty in pink 1986
The Corsa Rosa ended up as being a big Italian pasta party. From stage 3 and on, only Italian riders were to dress in pink. Baronchelli, Saronni and eventual winner of this Giro, Visentini took over after one another. The podium ended up being 100% made in Italy. The first non-Italian rider was Greg LeMond, finishing 4th in the G.C. Greg, who was obviously not strong enough to beat the Italians on their turf, had a relatively good Giro with a stage win on day 5 in Cosenza. He also had some bad luck being involved in a massive crash where he got an nose injury and a time loss he would never be able to recover from. No “maglia rosa” for the American, but the “maillot jaune”, the most important of all prizes, was not too far ahead.

After his hunting accident in 1987, Greg returned to the Giro in 1988 with the Dutch PDM team. No real ambition this time. Greg was still on the way back, hoping to be the rider he had been 2 years before. But in the 5th stage half of his team crashed (!) in a major incident and LeMond, already suffering from a crash at the E3 Harelbeke, had to drop the race.

1989 was one of the most dramatic Giri in LeMond’s career. Riding for the Belgian ADR team, Greg was almost invisible during the race. He lost a lot of time early on in the 2nd stage to Mount Etna. Greg was getting worse every day. The worst of the worst came in stage 13 at Tre Cime de Laveredo. It was snowing and the uphill finish was terrible. Herrera crossed the line beating pink jersey Fignon by a minute. When Greg LeMond arrived, the podium ceremony was already over. People were heading home and no one was interested in the race anymore. A pale and tired LeMond crossed the line gazing desperately at… nothing. He had the face of death. That night he decided it was his last race as a pro rider. Then he called his wife, Kathy, to warn her. She just said “It’s ok if you quit. But don’t quit before giving it all.”. As a result, it put a lot less pressure on Greg who started to improve. He gained in confidence. At the same time, Greg’s blood was tested and showed an alarming iron deficiency, which could explain in part his lack of results. It was decided to treat the trouble with a simple iron supplement. A new goal was set : give it all in the last time trial. Eventually, Lech Piasecki was the only one beating Greg in that final time trial and pretty soon champagne was poured in the airplane. “I’m back ! I’m back !” echoed at 30 000 feet between Italy and Belgium.
pretty in pink 1989
The Giro would never become a total success for Greg. After his second Tour de France win, he would end up handling spring as a training course. Not much more, except maybe for Paris-Roubaix in 1992. In 1990 Greg started the Giro as the perfect race to lose some weight and get back in the game. The world champion “trained” almost 3 hours more than winner Gianni Bugno raced. In 1991, despite a super bonus promised by Gelati Sanson, the occasional Z team sponsor in Italian races, for winning the Giro, Greg didn’t do any better and left the race before the end. “Ten years ago, the Giro was a quiet race, with off days. I remember finishing 3rd and 4th in 1985/86 without really trying. At that time I could race it after 4 weeks of training in the US after leaving Europe after Liège. It was a race of February level. For the last 2-3 years it’s become like the Tour. To make a top 20 you have to peak for it.”. When Greg quit the Giro in 1993 it would be for good.
pretty in pink 1990 1991
The pink jersey was maybe never a real ambition, but I really wanted to see LeMond someday riding in that nice pink jersey. It would have looked really good on him. Pretty in pink, don’t you think?
pretty in pink fake 3
(Edited by Thierry in Photoshop)


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Heaven of the North

By Thierry Mertens

April 1992. It hasn’t been raining the whole week. The roads in the North of France are dry. The sun is hidden behind the clouds but there’s no rain. Everybody is talking about 1 thing. The Hell of the North, Paris – Roubaix.

The cobblestones, better known as “pavés”. The forest of Wallers-Arenberg. The flats, the crashes. The heroes struggling to get to the velodrome of Roubaix. Newspapers are full of it. One of those heroes is Greg LeMond. He looks motivated. He always is for Paris – Roubaix. Remember 1985 where he got 4th place and posed with his mud covered face for the cameras ?
Heaven of the north 85
Circumstances were different that day. There was no sun. Only rain and mud. The Mondrian pattern of the La Vie Claire jersey was wiped out with brown mud. It was hard to sort out the different teams. Especially when cameras were filming them from the front. After his forced abandon in 1984 due to several mechanical problems Greg LeMond completed the Hell of the Norh for the first time in 1985. And how did he. He became 4th after an heroic battle between the leaders of the peloton. A small group was chasing Marc Madiot, his former teammate for Renault. The Frenchman had taken advantage of the others looking at eachother to respond his attack. With only 20 kilmeters to go, the chasers : Sean Kelly, Eddy Planckaert, Rudy Dhaenens, Jef Lieckens, Greg LeMond and Madiot’s teammate Bruno Wojtinek were trying to get back on the former French champion. Only they couldn’t. Madiot eventually won and his teammate, Wojtinek, took the opportunity to become 2nd in an historical 1-2 for the Renault team after he attacked the chasers. Again it was Kelly who outsprinted Greg in the sprint for 3rd place, despite a crash entering the velodrome. It was Greg’s best result ever in Paris-Roubaix. It was also the muddiest he ever participated in. But he was happy. He loved the race and said later he couldn’t go faster that day.

Cameras are rolling. The French television is broadcasting. The live images are on the air. We’re back in 1992. There’s a lot of Z jerseys in front of the peloton. I can’t see who it is, but there’s 3 or 4 of them. There’s a lot of dust from the dry roads. Then … a glimpse. I don’t need more to know what I see. The Scott drop-ins, the style, the expression. It’s Greg. He’s riding in front of the peloton. A closer look tells me he’s riding a special bike today fitted with the Rockshox front fork suspension helping him to ride more comfortably on these hard cobblestones. Always the innovator, Greg had introduced the technology the previous year, allowing him to ride the Arenberg trench without holding his handlebars. True story, check out this video about the suspension and watch him doing it at 1:16. http://www.ina.fr/video/CAB91017643/paris-roubaix-les-trucs-video.html
heaven of the north suspension
Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, loyal teammate of Greg, is also riding with this suspension. But he’s not in the peloton. He’s in front of the race with names as Fignon and Ludwig. The peloton is chasing them. Only 45 kilometers to go. The peloton is closing down the gap. On the next sector of “pavés” Duclos-Lassalle attacks. Nobody is able to react. He’s gone.

Not much later the rest of the leading group is caught by the peloton. With only their French teammate in front the Z’s are disturbing the chase. As a result, there’s no organisation in the peloton anymore and the gap is not closing down. Jean-Claude Colotti and Greg LeMond are the main reason for that. Each attempt to attack is countered by Duclos-Lassalle’s teammates. Greg is toying with his pedals. He’s strong today. I have the feeling he’s able to attack but he won’t. He’s loyal to Duclos-Lassalle and does everything to help him win the race.

Roubaix is nearing. I’m getting more nervous. In some way I want Greg to attack and go for this victory but on the other hand I also want Duclos-Lassalle to win the race. Another attack. Another reaction from the Z team. There’s Greg. He’s following another rider trying to attack. They have a small gap, but Greg refuses to help. He’s loyal. The peloton comes back. There’s no way anyone can escape from the Z brigade. Or is there ? All of a sudden a Panasonic rider is alone. It’s Ludwig, the German sprinter who was in the leading group before. The Z’s know he’s too tired to catch Duclos so they let him go preventing others to attack, meaning the race is over. Greg and Colloti are still controlling the peloton. Or what’s left of it. Its size has been reduced to an elite group with some strong Z riders in it.

The final kilometers are a true Z Vêtements show. Roger Zannier, boss of the Z team, must be happy with all this publicity. When Duclos-Lassalle enters the Velodrome the crowd is chearing his name. “Duclos !, Duclos !”. When he crosses the line the French commentators are losing it. He deserves it after hunting this victory for years. Second places in 1980 and 1983. 4th in 1989, 6th in 1990… Decibels are rising and when Ludwig arrives the almost 38 years old Duclos-Lassalle is already celebrating since about 34 seconds.
heaven of the north velodrome
The chasing group is on its way now. Greg’s in a good position. The French commentator is supporting him and Colloti to get 3rd place but a 9th place is the result. His second best performance in Paris-Roubaix since his 4th place in 1985. The best results of a former Tour de France winner in Paris-Roubaix for a long time. Every edition he participated resulted in some nice pictures of Greg. He was a gift for the photographers. In 1991 the famous black and white picture in the bathroom of Roubaix was awarded at World Press Photo with the first prize in the sports category.
Heaven of the north faces
Cameras are searching for Duclos-Lassalle. It’s not the Frenchman they find. They find 3 Z riders celebrating. It’s Colloti, Duclos-Lassale and Greg. Greg shouts “We’ll drink champagne tonight”. (http://www.ina.fr/video/CAB92023299/cyclisme-reactions-apres-victoire-duclos-lassalle-video.html). He’s happy. Maybe more happy for his teammate than for himself. “He deserves this. He’s always there for me when I need him in the race”. It’s true, remember Duclos-Lassalle waiting for Greg in the 1990 Tour de France stage to Pau where he got flat and Chiappucci attacked ? Duclos was in front, but waited to help his leader. “I’m happy I could give him something in return. I was strong. If Duclos-Lassalle was not in front I centainly would have attacked. This feels like a victory to me”.
Heaven of the north celebration
The next day the newspapers show a huge picture of the winner of Paris-Roubaix on the front page. But inside it’s about Greg. All positive news. He’s in good shape. The Hell of the North became a heaven that day. Not just for Duclos-Lassalle but for the whole team, including Greg LeMond.

Watch the race here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7t5SFiknMM


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Spring is coming.

msr thrones
By Nicolas Lelièvre

“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.
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Enter 1986.

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.
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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.
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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 ?
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Watch the images here.