Greg LeMond: The first American Tour de France Champion

Written by R. Jibus

Follow R. Jibus on Twitter  @Rominger007

As the Tour de France begins this year it also marks 30 years ago that its first and only American winner by Greg LeMond won this great race.  LeMond wins after his 3rd try on this race after making his debut in the race in 1984 and finishing 3rd on his first attempt.  Then returning and helping France’s Bernard Hainault win his 5th TDF and securing 2nd place for himself.  After winning the 1985 TDF Hainault promised LeMond that he would support and ride for LeMond to win the 1986 TDF.  But as the race started it seems like Hainault broke his promise and tried to win a record breaking 6th TDF.  No one during the era had ever won 6 TDF’s in their career and it still stands today with no one winning 6th TDF’s.

Now to be fair it was broken by Lance Armstrong in 2004 with a 6th straight TDF win and would go on to win another TDF in 2005 when he retired to win 7 Tours.  But as we all know now that it was based on a lie with cheating on performance enhancing drugs.  So in 2012 the UCI governing body for world cycling stripped him of all his titles and leaves Greg LeMond as the only American winner of the Tour.

So to be clear America would win the Tour de France a total of 11 times.  Greg LeMond winning 3 Tours, Lance winning 7 Tours and Floyd Landis winning 1 Tour in 2006.  Landis would win the TDF a year after Armstrong retired, but he would also be stripped of his title for cheating with PED.  So now America holds the record for only 3 wins.  Now it’s well documented on LeMond being out spoken towards Armstrong and questioning his training methods with Italian Dr. Ferrari who was well known with the European cyclists as being the man to see about PED.  Armstrong would try to destroy LeMond in the press as calling him a jealous drunk who has an addiction to drugs.

Cycling in a way owes LeMond a lot for what he’s done for the sport in terms on rider wages and innovation for bike technology.  LeMond was the first rider to sign a multi-year in 1985 for $1.4M for 3 years.  When that happened the sport went crazy for a rider hadn’t won the Tour de France yet.  LeMond was the first American to win the World Road Race Championships in 1983 to be world champion for a year.  He would later win the Worlds again in 1989 along with winning the TDF in the same year.  He also introduced the first ever carbon bike frames into the sport for lighter and stiffness support for a rider in races.  He paved the way for full zip jersey before it was just ¾ zip down the shirt.  The list goes on and on for what he’s done for the sport.

After winning the TDF in 1986 he was set to defend his title in 1987 but a freak hunting accident stopped him from defending his title the following year.  LeMond was out turkey hunting with his uncle and brother-in-law in Lincoln, California and was accidently shot by his brother-in-law and over 60 pellets were shot into his body.  He still has some pellets lodged in his body to this day. He would miss the TDF in 1988 due to a knee injury but in 1989 he made his comeback to the TDF with his ADR/Coors Light team.  The race changed leads between him and Laurent Fignon who in April won the Giro d’italia, the second biggest race in the world next to the Tour de France.  Fignon was favored to win and LeMond actually wasn’t even considered to be a contender.  But a strong stage 5 ITT performance vaulted LeMond into the lead.  The race came down to the final ITT in Paris and he would win the TDF by the smallest of margins that still holds to this day by a mere 8 seconds over Fignon.  LeMond also set a course record on the fastest ever ITT speed of 34mph.

Greg LeMond would return in 1990 and win his 3rd and final TDF, but the effects of his hunting accident would eventually be the demise of his career.  He would later retire in 1994 and he then has setup numerous companies in the sport of cycling.  He did have a company that built bikes with his name on the frames but that came to an end when he was very outspoken against Armstrong.  His company would suffer as many other people who tried to speak out against Armstrong on the truth he was cheating during his career.  Company went under but just as of last year he’s launched his brand of bikes again.

LeMond may have a big mouth like some people say in the sport but he was never far from the truth on trying to clean up the sport of cycling.  When the whole Armstrong drama came out, you have to wonder for all the people and companies that dropped him due to Armstrong, if they ever said they were sorry – they probably didn’t.  He may not gloat about it or say he’s feels vindicated, but in the end it seems LeMond has the last laugh now at those who thought he was a jealous crazy old man.  He’s now a leading advocate for a clean and healthy sport for cycling.  So I say in the end, the sport does owe him some credit on what’s been achieved and maybe even moving forward.

On Twitter: @Rominger007