Image by Klass Jan van der Weij taken at Paris-Roubaix 26 years ago
If you ask people who inspired them to ride a bicycle you’re likely to get a fond, albeit a limited response; possibly a family member, best friend, or hero. Ask people who inspired them to go out and actually purchase a bicycle and you are likely to receive a wider variety of answers. For me, it was Greg LeMond.
A winner of 3 Tours de France and 2 world championships, Greg LeMond continues to have an impact on the sport through racing commentary and a culture of disruptive innovation. LeMond was the first American to win the Tour, and after Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong both being disqualified, he remains the only American to officially keep his name on the yellow jersey.
Here are three stages that made Greg LeMond stand out:
Greg LeMond describes the talented Bernard Hinault as the ‘Eddy Merckx’ of his time; the very best of his generation. As a promising young rider, LeMond is courted to join the top racing team, Renault, by the imposing ‘father-figure’ that is Hinault. LeMond goes on to help his captain win further Tour de France titles, totalling 5 wins by 1985. Reportedly, Hinault pledges to LeMond that he will repay the favour and help his younger teammate win in the following year, but racing is never easy, especially amongst giants.
Young and in Yellow – LeMond in 1986
By the late 80’s LeMond had other Goliath’s in his life. Following a life threatening gunshot wound during a hunting accident, LeMond propels himself back to mental and physical shape, whilst seeking every opportunity to adopt technology to help him reach the top. 1989 was such a year as this; separated by only 50 seconds, the defending champion and leader of the Tour, Laurent Fignon, takes the battle right down to the final stage in his home city of Paris, France. Controversially, LeMond rolls to the start ramp with the latest tech of the time: donning an aero helmet and tri-bars. It’s revolutionary, feisty and electrifying.
The seesaw drama of 1989 getting down to the wire
Not so much a Tour stage, but a life stage; Greg LeMond produces his own line of bicycles. At first with traditional steel materials, followed in 1991, with carbon fibre. LeMond continues to define the pioneering cyclist.
I first laid my eyes on a Greg LeMond frame at my friendly local bike shop. After admiring the many bicycles on offer, I plucked up the courage and asked the manager what he rode. He went round the back before proudly presenting to me a stunning LeMond steel road bike in dashing red. It was an emotional moment.
Since that day, I have come to appreciate the man behind the machine. I have watched him battle with Bernard Hinault on Alp d’Huez countless times; learned from his eagerness to seek out opportunities; motivated by LeMond’s positive attitude, especially during his hunting accident and facing all of this with a courageous smile. However, when I think of Greg LeMond, I often see this image that I came across years ago, but can no longer find a copy of; it’s of Greg LeMond lacing up for a CX ride. I don’t know if it was for an event; I like to think it was simply a fun day out for a teenager and his bicycle. Sitting there on the bonnet of his car, LeMond reminds me of the freedom that comes from keeping an open mind and trying new things – on and off the bicycle.
“It never gets easier. You just get stronger.” – LeMond
Cycling has given a lot and, in some ways, taken a big bite out of Greg’s life. In addition to his hunting accident and team politics; the fiasco with Trek and Lance Armstrong took a heavy toll, with LeMond withdrawing from the sport altogether. In an interview with Eurosport, Kathy, Greg LeMond’s wife, describes them turning away from the sport they love as heartbreaking.
A decade on and LeMond is being sought after, almost rediscovered, by the likes of cycling fans, media and business’ in search for a more ‘authentic cycling’ approach. Watching Greg LeMond commentating for Eurosport, it’s as if he never left; he seems to have kept the passion hidden all these years and is over the moon to be involved again.
Alas, Greg LeMond won’t be with Eurosport this July. Instead it seems with the founding of LeMond.com, Greg LeMond is looking to new business horizons. Never straying too far from cycling, he is partnering with Deakin University, Australia, with an aim to produce the next-generation of carbon fibre products for a multitude of industries. Amongst many other qualities, a material that delivers a far more eco-friendly attribute than traditional carbon fibre. We all hope so.
Greg LeMond is not a name everybody may recognise, but I think that’s just how he likes it. Rather than just talking about it, Greg has always seemed to be the kind of person who simply likes getting the job done. Today is Greg’s birthday. Happy Birthday Greg LeMond!