The month of July has always been for me about the Tour de France. Every summer millions of people like myself are mesmerised by the theatre and drama of this gruelling three-week event, that takes the worlds best riders through 2000+ miles of French countryside. I fell in love with this great race in 1985 watching many of the greats complete for cycling’s ultimate price. That year was no different from any other previous edition of the race except that L’Américain almost stole the show. Immediately, I was mesmerized up this young gun who dared to turn a cycling tradition on its head. A year later he would win the ’86 race beating teammate French legend Bernard Hinault. Their fiery rivalry ‘broke every rule in the book’, but that is a story for another day.
Greg LeMond is the name of the young gun that I have been alluding to thus far. He is the reason why I love the Tour de France. Critics are often divided by their opinion of him, but his influence is still felt years after his retirement from professional racing in 1994. Honest, honorable and courageous is how I describe Greg LeMond, one of my favourite people of the 20th century. These are the qualities I like to think I share with my sporting idol. What I love most about him is that when the chips were down, he always rose to the occasion. He stood up to tyrants, like Lance Armstrong, who bullied, vilified and tried to ruin his reputation all because he wouldn’t go along with the lies. Since 2001, LeMond has been in the firing line for his stance against Armstrong. He dared to speak about things that others weren’t willing to say. He stood strong for over a decade with a small group led by journalist David Walsh against the world’s greatest sporting cheat. Lets not forget that during his colorful career, he was the new kid on the block, who challenged European cycling traditions (do’s and don’ts). He popularized cycling in the States and was possibly the most innovative cyclist ever ! He would go onto win the Tour de France in 1986,89,90 and for a long time he was the only non-European to win the Tour until Cadel Evans.
Greg Lemond at Play the Game 2009.
This year’s race is the 101st edition of the Tour since its commencement in 1903. (It has rarely skipped a beat with the exception of the war years between 1915 to 1918 and 1940 to 1946. During the First World War, the only bicycle riding that took place during those years were by soldiers on the frontline.) I will be seeking for a new victor to cheer and rally behind. LeMond too, has his own predictions of who will win this years race as he returns to the Tour de France full-time after years in cycling’s wilderness. As part of Eurosports commentary team, he finally feels welcomed back to the sport that shunned him because of his opinions about Armstrong. Unfortunately, in these recent year of scandal and controversy, I have not found my next Greg LeMond. The Lance Armstrong years has left a deep scar on the psyche of cycling, as it did on LeMond himself. Fellow Australian, Cadel Evans has come very close to emulating LeMond’s feats on and off the bike, but he is still racing and is now at the twilight of his career. I will reserve my judgment of him later. Until the next L’Américain or his equal in my eyes comes along, there will always only be one Greg LeMond.
Photo Credit The header image is Greg LeMond in the ‘stars and strips’ winning the 1989 World Championships. The photo taken by Jens Astrup of LeMond at the Play the Game 2009 is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license.