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Climbing Clear Up To The Heights

Sept. 03, 1984
Sept. 03, 1984

Table of Contents
Sept. 3, 1984

The Million
On Top Of The World
Joe Theismann
Rick Sutcliffe
Rare Bird
Pro Football
TV/Radio
Greg LeMond
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Climbing Clear Up To The Heights

Greg LeMond, a Huck Finn with steel thighs, is the first American to pedal his way to the top ranks of European bike racing royalty

In the countryside near Lucerne, in Switzerland, high mountain meadows fall away toward improbably perfect villages. Over these a single ribbon of blacktop road snakes upward, and now, climbing from the valley floor, comes the lone figure of a cyclist, standing on the pedals. The figure disappears from time to time on the tight switchbacks, then reappears at a still higher level, heading for Klausen Pass. It's important to note the rider's style of attack: His body is curled forward, but not bobbing; beneath him, the bike sways sharply from side to side with each powerful downstroke of his legs. The bicycle weaves among beige cows maundering along the road, as the rider ascends higher and higher.

This is an article from the Sept. 3, 1984 issue Original Layout

He's sweating profusely, great shining drops falling from his nose and jawline, and he's breathing through his mouth. But oddly enough, his face shows no pain on the 7-to-12% grade in thinning air approaching 4,200 feet. He won't call it quits on this training run until he's in the snow line on the pass at 6,437 feet. The cyclist pulls alongside a slowly moving support car, a Mercedes 190, and as he sits for a moment, still pedaling, he leans over and looks in the window at the supplies jumbled in the back seat.

The best that one can expect to hear at this point is perhaps a strangled death rattle. But instead:

"You guys got any more of those apple turnovers left?" he says. "Is there any more Coke?"

The last of the apple turnovers bought at the village below is handed out the car window to him. Three bites and it's gone. A half-full two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola is handed over and he gulps it down, swallowing noisily. Then he burps approvingly and says, "See you at the top."

"So what do you think of this mountain?" he's asked.

He grins. "It is nossing, dollink," he says. He picked up the expression from a writer friend; now he says it a lot. And then he's gone, standing on the pedals again, somehow gaining speed through the next switchback. The Mercedes trundles along obediently behind. In low gear.

Thus a day in the life of Gregory James LeMond. He's 23 and the reigning world pro champion, the toast of the Continent, where bike racers are a form of royalty. And, of all things, he's an American. No, no, more than that: the quintessential American, a true Innocent Abroad, open-faced and still full of wonder. He's a touseled blond with light-blue eyes, a sort of Huck Finn with steel thighs. He's a family man and a proud new papa. Throughout Europe, they say his name with awe and stretch it out approvingly: Greg LeMoooonnnnd.

This June interlude in Switzerland comes just before the 24-day Tour de France, the most prestigious event on the pro circuit, in which LeMond will finish a most creditable third. To put that into perspective, bear in mind that he was only the second U.S. competitor in the 81-year history of the Tour. He was also the first non-European ever to make it into the top three. "I was almost disappointed," he would say later. "I'd half-expected to win the thing."

Let's face it, it's patently impossible for a kid from Washoe County, Nev. to be picked up from the mountain canyons around Reno and dropped right in among the most formidable racers in the world—and go wheel to wheel with them. There were the likes of France's Bernard Hinault, a four-time winner of the Tour, and his countryman Laurent Fignon, who won the event in '83 and would again this year; Italy's Giuseppe Saronni, the world champ for '82, and Sean Kelly of Ireland, the king of the cobblestone courses and the current world points leader. Yet there was LeMond, clearly not cowed, certainly not surprised to find himself racing with them and in many cases beating them. He is, after all, the only American and the youngest of only four racers in history to win the world championship and the Super Prestige Pernod Trophy—cycling's World Cup—in the same year. Indeed, Hinault himself has allowed that "LeMond will ride over my body," meaning that the American would one day succeed him as the world's best racer. And other experts say flatly, shrugging, palms up, that LeMond will one day become the best rider the sport has ever known.

Imagine it: The '83 world champ, holder of a clutch of world records, third-place finisher in the Tour, the acknowledged new terror of the Alpine climbs—and he's still a growing boy. He's still the Kid. Bike racing is like that in Europe. Maurice Champion, an assistant coach and the public relations voice for the Renault team, rolls his eyes heavenward and says, "Greg is tr√®s aggressive now; sometimes too aggressive, and he's still learning the racing technique. But at 25, ahhhh. At 25, he shall be unstoppable."

For now, the champ pauses atop Klausen Pass. Despite the brilliant sun and the heat rising from the valley, he tugs on woolen leg warmers and a hooded pullover and then a transparent plastic parka for the ride down the other side, in which his swift descent would otherwise chill him to the bone. He'll roll flat out through the tight curves at 40 to 50 mph, touching his brakes only lightly from time to time going into the corners and accelerating out of the turns like a shot. The Mercedes will follow at a respectable speed, tires squealing—ain't no car that'll keep up with LeMond on the way down. It's agreed to meet at a roadside café at the bottom. "I'll order hot dogs and Dairy Queens all around," he says. "That is, assuming you ever make it down. Look: You want to take the bike down and I'll drive?"

And, sure enough, he's waiting at a café terrace at the bottom, sprawled comfortably under a brightly striped umbrella. He's peeled down to a white, short-sleeved pullover with the familiar rainbow stripes around the chest—the official world champion's jersey—with his tanned, clean-shaven legs (to make massage easier, he says) stretched out. The waitresses and diners watch his every move admiringly. Some of them glance upward toward the pass, as if they half expect to see a pack of pursuing racers pouring down through the curves. See? It is Greg LeMooonnnnd, and see how he eats.

This is a certified report of LeMond at lunch: He started with two half-liter bottles of Coke, drinking the first without pause. Then came a huge platter stacked with bunderfleisch, paper-thin slices of cured beef, an enormous tuna salad, three plates of French bread and two half-liter bottles of mineral water. And there's more pastry in the car for afternoon munchies. This is an extremely light lunch for him; his breakfasts and dinners are truly monstrous.

LeMond is that wonder of medical science, a living, walking, riding furnace. In full-bore action, he throws off calories at such a rate that one might expect to see them trailing away behind him like smoke. "And my oxygen uptake [VO[2]]," he says, "can drive an ergometer flat crazy." It seems impossible for him to eat like this and remain a lean 147 pounds at 5'9", yet, "in some tough races," he says, "I'll be hammering along with my eyes sort of glazing over, not knowing quite where I am—and the team director will whip alongside in the car and yell at me, 'Eat! Eat!' That's because I've hit the Bonk—which is like a marathon runner hitting the wall at the 20-mile mark. The French call it la fringale; hitting the Bonk is when you've accidentally run your glycogen level down too far and need instant nourishment, or maybe you'll pass out. So I reach into my back pocket and pull out some rice cakes. And I'll wash them down with the stuff in one of my bottles, a mixture of tea and glucose. In most races—we're talking about six hours or so at a stretch—I'll eat something about every 20 minutes."

While LeMond works his way through lunch—"Ummm, is that all the tuna you're gonna eat? Here, I'll finish it"—one has the opportunity to reflect upon the conversion of a child racing prodigy into an international champ; the life and fast times that have brought him so far from home.

Tradition has it that great bike racers are made, not born—well, provided they start riding hard no later than at age 15 and then merely devote their lives to it. LeMond beat that deadline by roughly one year. "The summer I was 14, my dad bought himself a racing bike to get back in shape," LeMond says. "He's a real-estate dealer. He'd been about a six-pack-a-day man and had developed a little pot belly. I already had a Raleigh 10-speed I'd bought with my lawn-mowing money, and we started riding together three or four times a week for an hour each time. That was fine, but next thing I knew, he had me riding 60 miles of the trip to Yosemite National Park. Listen: I was so tired I wanted to cry."

This was in Washoe County, suburban Reno, so to speak, where the LeMonds had moved from Los Angeles when Greg was seven. There were his mom, Bertha, and dad, Robert (no more belly; in superb shape now at 44 and a demon cyclist), and sisters Kathy, now 25, and Karen, now 21. "Bike riding was fairly O.K.," Greg says, "but I was already a pretty good skier and it was my secret plan to become the world's greatest hotdogger. You know, bombing through the moguls and entering contests and winning titles and all. I was only riding to keep my legs in shape for skiing."

But there was no snow around Reno in the winter of 1975-76, and the LeMonds went right on cycling into January, and then February. By that time young Greg had joined an outfit called the Reno Wheelmen. "They had a weekend club race in February," Greg says. "It was all older guys and then me. It was 25 miles, all out." And when LeMond came in second, laughing all the way, that, as they say, did it.

His aggressive instincts have been snapping and crackling ever since. "Man, it was crazy," he says. "Every race just spurred me on more. In March I raced an intermediate event in Sacramento, 12-to-15-year-olds, and won it. And I won again two weeks later. Did you see the movie Breaking Away? Well, I got like that. I went insane. I started reading all the international cycling magazines. Those pictures! All that neat Italian and French stuff! Who could understand it, but who cared? Just look at those guys! I really got into it. My first year, I won 11 races in my age group. I jumped into juniors [15 to 18], even though my birthday wasn't until June 26—and I won the state championship and finished fourth in the nationals. Man!"

And gradually, a certain LeMond style of racing began to emerge: individualistic rather than team or pack-oriented; a sort of nice-riding-with-you-guys-but-now-I'm-gonna-go-for-it technique. This attack mode has carried over into his pro career, and he's still working on toning it down somewhat, studying strategy like a young Patton, learning to go with the overall flow of a race. Says Renault's Champion, "We must still sit on him, how you say, keep him calm." That style, however, swept LeMond through an absolutely stunning amateur career.

By the end of 1977 he'd won the Junior Nationals, plus two of the three selection races for the world junior team—but was banned because he was still too young to tour. No matter. In 1978 he won a bronze medal in the junior world championship team time trials in Washington, then popped off to Europe to win eight races in two vacation months. And the next year was even headier. At the junior world meet in Buenos Aires, he jumped in as a substitute on a borrowed bike to win the silver medal in the velodrome pursuit. It was only the second pursuit event he'd ever run, which meant, as one magazine pointed out, his total experience in the thing was 19 minutes. He followed up with a bronze medal in the 44-mile team time trials—and then won the gold medal in the road race.

But not exactly laughing. With 18 miles to go in that 76-mile event, LeMond burst into one of his patented breakaways. Along with him came Kenny DeMarteleire of Belgium, who'd won the track championship the year before. What happened next was a sort of graduation rite, the end of innocence. With 330 yards to go, LeMond slowed, forcing DeMarteleire to pass him. Then, when LeMond sprinted out from behind DeMarteleire and pulled alongside, driving for the finish, DeMarteleire swerved and forced LeMond off the course and into a double row of automobile tires stacked as a guard rail at the side of the road. "And suddenly, somehow, I landed in between the rows," LeMond says. "But I mean upright and still riding to beat hell. Someone quickly yanked one of the tires away so I could get back on the course." And then DeMarteleire lunged at him again—this time sending LeMond right up on top of the tires. But again, he was still riding. "I just sort of lurched inside the iron pole at the finish line," he says, "just behind him."

The Belgian was disqualified on the spot—and rescued by the crowd from an angry LeMond. LeMond had become the first American ever to win a junior world road race, the first U.S. rider ever to win medals in both road and track, and the first rider of any nationality to win three medals at one world meet.

If LeMond's life were a B-movie script, the action would now cut quickly to Europe, the pro racing scene—and Cyrille Guimard, director of the Renault-Elf-Gitane team. Although few in the U.S. gave the faintest hoot about LeMond's accomplishment, it didn't escape Guimard. Nothing escapes Guimard, the most successful of all the pro team chiefs. In April 1980, when LeMond and the U.S. national team came to Europe for a series of pro-am races before the Olympic trials, Guimard was waiting. In effect, he already knew everything about LeMond down to the kid's hat size and favorite ice cream. Greg was then a first-year senior. The first race was the tough Circuit de la Sarthe, a 346-mile grind—and, sure enough, LeMond won it. Another first, of course. Next would come the Ruban Granitier Breton, and Guimard piled into his (what else?) Renault and drove over to see what would happen there.

"It was a five-day stage race," says LeMond, "and on the last day I was riding fifth overall. Then came a breakaway, and our pack surged out into a four-minute lead. Man, we were flying! Given the competition, I figured I was a cinch to finish second. And then, damn! I flatted. Front wheel. I raised my right arm to call up the team car—but nobody came. The car was being driven by a Frenchman, loaned to the U.S. team, but he was loafing along way too far back. So I stood there for a few moments, going crazy. Then the Belgian car came along and they kindly gave me a new wheel—but it was already too late. And I was churning along when our team car finally pulled alongside. And the driver, with a sort of, you know, what-the-hell attitude, told me to keep going, that I would maybe do better in the next race."

That's when LeMond braked to a sudden stop, stepped off the bike, picked it up and slammed it against the side of the car. A few more heated words ensued and then he threw the bike into a ditch.

Guimard saw it all, Guimard misses nothing. He later pulled alongside the French team car and chatted with the coach. Their conversation went roughly like this:

French Coach: "Well, what do you think now of your snotty young American racer?"

Guimard: "Now I want him more than ever."

Guimard got him. "He introduced himself after the race," LeMond says. "It was all very discreet because of my amateur status. But, heck, I'd already had offers from two other pro teams, Peugeot and Puch. But I discreetly said that, yeah, I'd be interested—secretly I really wanted Renault because they were clearly the best of them all. And it was sort of agreed that I'd finish out 1980 as an amateur and we'd talk about it sometime after the Olympics."

With that sort of future hanging over his head, the rest of 1980 was, well, anti-climactic. Back home, he took on the best racers in the land to win the road race at the Olympic trials in June, the youngest ever, at 18, to make the U.S. team. When the boycott became irrevocable, perhaps the least-disappointed athlete in the country was LeMond. In September he took out his pro license.

And, lo, come November, guess who should happen to show up right there in good old Washoe County but that relentless tourist, Cyrille Guimard. He was accompanied by his No. 1 racer, Hinault, who came along to lend some impressive star quality.

It should be noted that LeMond officially graduated with the Wooster High School class of 1980—a goal accomplished by means of correspondence courses, since he had dropped out for the junior nationals. One couldn't both race and go to school. But as has been said of another notable dropout, A.J. Foyt of Indy 500 fame, "He may not have gone to college, but he sure as hell can read a contract." Guimard and LeMond sat down to talk terms, and pro bike racing hasn't been the same since.

The kitchen of the brick house in Kortrijk, Belgium smells strangely wonderful this sunny noontime. In the air is an aroma guaranteed not to be found anywhere else in this well-trimmed, upper-class town. It's the distinctive smell of honest-to-God cheeseburgers frying, with lettuce and sliced onions and tomatoes waiting to one side. "You're just in time for breakfast," LeMond says, standing at the stove in his racing togs. "I'll put you down for two of these, O.K.? Can you handle three?"

LeMond had returned from Switzerland late the night before, whomping along the highways at about 110 mph most of the way—there's a lot of Richard Petty in him. His brand new, bone-white Mercedes 500 SEL is parked in the driveway. A team-supplied Renault station wagon sits out front. His Gitane racing bike leans against the wall in the front hallway.

Kathy LeMond oversees the rest of the meal: cheese puffs and strawberries, Cokes and cappuccino with brown sugar sprinkled on top. "Is this Continental enough for you?" she says. Kathy, a year older than Greg, is brightly pretty with perfect teeth. Nearby, their six-month-old son, Geoffrey James, sits in his stroller. And Brigitte, the cocker spaniel, paces anxiously from chair to chair, ready in case anybody drops anything.

Geoffrey LeMond, born in February in Sacramento, Calif., is exactly what Greg and Kathy wanted, an older brother to the planned three other kids who'll one day live with them on two continents. "We're not sure yet," Kathy says. "Maybe we'll live in California in the offseason; we've got a home now in Sacramento where Greg can train in the Sierra Nevadas. Or maybe in Minneapolis...."

"...Or maybe in Connecticut," Greg says. "But somewhere in the States. I've got to have my America fix a couple of times a year or I'd go nuts. You know, I'm probably the most American American anybody's ever seen. Lots of times European journalists will ask me what goes through my mind in the middle of long races. And I can't explain it to them exactly because it's kind of vague and they might not understand—but what I think about when I have time is America. Oh, you know, the really neat towns we've got and the fantastic countryside and the movies, TV, magazines and newspapers and the Dairy Queens—God, I dream about Dairy Queens!—and all that good stuff. But you can understand that, uh, right?"

Of course. Even if they're thoughts of home, a racer thinks of such things only fleetingly during a long event; most of the time, as LeMond says, his mind's in killer gear. "I know I'm missing all the spectacular scenery in races," he says, "and, anyway, the crowd forms a sort of tunnel. At most events, there are upwards of 100,000 people."

The 45,000 people of the town of Kortrijk have adopted the LeMond family with a passion, cheering Greg on, stopping him on the streets for autographs, waving to him as he rides by—and if he accepted just a few of the free drinks offered up by locals, he'd be loopy-legged for the next year. After LeMond won the world title last September, a happy crowd was waiting at the house to welcome him home; they had thoughtfully painted greetings on all of his windows and hung bicycle wheels from the rain gutter and dug a hole in his sidewalk out front to plant a big American flag—and painted a finish line on the street in front of his driveway. Four days later the community threw an official victory bash at the splendid 12th-century town hall. LeMond's idol, the legendary Eddy Merckx of Belgium, five-time winner of the Tour de France, was there, as well as Alberic Schotte, 65, a hometown boy who was the world champion 34 years ago. The people of Kortrijk, says Kathy, "are just fabulous."

It's a far cry from their introduction to Europe. After LeMond had signed with Renault, he and Kathy were picked up and plopped down in Nantes on the west coast of France, to be near Guimard and the rest of the team. This was in February 1981. LeMond's contract provided for a pleasant apartment and furnishings and a car, but still, for the next two years they felt like strangers in a strange land.

"I'd taken a two-week crash course in French at Berlitz in San Diego," LeMond says, "but I still wasn't comfortable with it. I went to winter training camp and sat there for two whole weeks without saying one word to anybody. Being a pro was a little intimidating at first. And besides, I didn't understand the TV and I couldn't read the newspapers. You know what? For the first year we lived in France I didn't even pay my taxes because I didn't know what the form was. But gradually I got a little better."

Strictly an understatement. LeMond is the sort who soaks up languages through his pores; now he reads French, and speaks it machine-gun style, if not always grammatically, with both hands painting pictures in the air.

LeMond had heard about Kortrijk from his best pal, Phil Anderson, an Australian who races for Panasonic-Raleigh and who lived in a nearby town. "He told us about how great it was," LeMond says. "English-speaking! And you could catch the BBC and American TV shows beamed across the Channel. And they had English language newspapers and magazines. And regular, I mean, grocery stores. Peanut butter! So we moved here last year, and this is the good life."

LeMond has a contract that's acknowledged to be rare in the sport. "Guimard has his favorite races and I have mine," LeMond says. "We go over them carefully at the start of a season and strike bargains on where I'll go. I always want the mountains—man, I love eating 'em up in the hills—and flat terrain doesn't do much for me. But most important, we work it out; he never makes me race against my will. See, you can't race too much while you're young or you'll flat burn out."

The international bike-racing season runs from February to October. The Prestige Trophy series looms above everything—26 races with points counting toward the title. This circus includes such monsters as the Tour de France and the 12-day Tour de l'Avenir. Most of the events are road races run in stages—but the series also includes the world championship, a one-day, winner-take-all road race, and a clutch of other one-day killers, each claiming to be a classic. While classic is the most loosely used word in bike racing, it's generally agreed that there are six of these true biggies, among them the season-ending Tour of Lombardy, a 157-mile scramble around Lake Como that should more properly be called a crusher. That's the basic framework. Filling in the gaps are races in South and Central America and hundreds of criteriums all across Europe, a summer-long carnival of race-around-the-town-square meets. They don't qualify for Prestige Trophy points, but they do pay off handsomely in appearance money, and the top pros use them for training. "Taking in everything," LeMond says, "I raced 130 times last year." That buys a lot of peanut butter.

LeMond and Guimard see all of this as a sort of high-speed game in which the object is not to win them all, but to win the big meets and score high in the others. Pacing is everything. In his rookie year LeMond won five races here and there but, most important of all, placed fourth in the highly regarded Dauphiné Libéré to let everybody know he was around. He ducked back to the U.S. to win that year's Coors Classic in the Colorado Rockies, smoking off the favored Soviet Olympic team. And then he really started to roll.

The first big move came in the 1982 world championship race held at Goodwood, England—featuring a rather mean kick in the ego for one Jacques Boyer (SI, June 29, '81), 28, a veteran pro and fellow American who was briefly a Renault teammate. It was a drama right out of a NASCAR race: With just a mile to go in the 170-mile grind, Boyer burst into the clear. Problem was, he was alone out there, pushing the air with no drafting help—and suddenly, 600 yards from the finish, LeMond exploded. He came charging through, pulling Italy's Saronni along with him, and they both flashed past Boyer. Just before the tape, Saronni ducked out of the envelope of air and shot ahead for the gold medal. But LeMond's second place was historic enough—he was the first American ever to finish that high—indeed, the first American pro to win any medal since Frank Kramer got a silver in 1912.

LeMond and Boyer aren't exactly what one might call good buddies, and when newsmen asked why he hadn't pulled his own countryman along instead of Saronni, LeMond's answer was simple. "Look," he said, "there was no way Boyer was gonna win this race, whether I helped or not. After all, he was fading, and eight other guys passed him at the end [Boyer finished 10th]. And when I saw him move, I just went after him."

Two weeks later, on Sept. 20, 1982, LeMond won the Tour de l'Avenir, a 12-day, 837-mile trek through the French Alps, by a world-record 10 minutes, 18 seconds. The victory—and that margin—stunned Europe, LEMOND LA BOMBE! said the monthly L'Équipe on its cover.

"Mr. Studdly himself," says Kathy.

LeMond continued to bomb away. Last season he won the Dauphiné Libéré and finished fourth in the Tour of Switzerland—both contested on mountain courses of the kind he loves—and then came September's world championship race at Altenrhein, Switzerland. "And that one," he says, "was a bear." They had laid out the course on a 9.48-mile circuit, 170.58 miles in all. Each lap presented more than 600 vertical feet of climbing—and at the very top there was a killer 10% grade for two miles. "Each time up, my lungs were on fire," LeMond says. "And coming down, I mean, totally flat out, my eyes would water with the speed—tears streaming back along my temples and probably flying off like, you know, driving a car in the rain. But racing's like that: You're zooming 40 and 50 miles an hour downhill and you're trying to see everything, straining to peek around the corners when there's no way to see what's ahead. Listen, it's dangerous. I jam the webs of my hands against the bars and hook my two front fingers over the brakes. Some of the guys prefer to lead coming off the tops of mountains; they want to set their own line through the turns. Not me. I try to pop in there in second or third spot and then I watch them. If they crash, I can slow down in time. Some sections of the roads are loose gravel—racing fans love to watch you skidding down through that stuff, catching rocks in your teeth. But I force myself to stay as calm as I can: If they lose me on the downhill, I'll kill them on the uphill."

This grind went on for seven hours, one minute and 21 seconds, and when it was all over, LeMond had won by a remarkable 1:11, burying such notables as Kelly, Saronni and Fignon (Boyer finished 30th). "Never," sighed Merckx, "did I win a world championship by so much time."

After that landmark, a second place in the Grand Prix des Nations, a 56-mile time trial near Cannes, put LeMond into the Prestige Trophy lead, and he followed up with a fourth in the Blois-Chaville and a second behind Kelly in the Tour of Lombardy to take the title.

This season Guimard and his ace rider concentrated on the Tour de France—"Greg will win it one day, of course," Guimard says—not worrying about the other early-season events. As it happened, LeMond entered the Tour one year earlier than they had planned "because I seem to be maturing faster than expected," he says.

Maturity is an elusive condition that varies from racer to racer. LeMond is just one year younger than his teammate, Fignon, but LeMond seems to be growing steadily stronger while others his age have peaked.

"Well, the Tour's the daddy of them all," LeMond says, "and I'll tell you, it was tough. First thing, I came down with bronchitis and a sore throat. Bad luck, right? The trouble with getting sick on the Tour is that you've got no go-to-bed time. So if you get sick, you ride sick. The first two weeks I was hanging in there in about eighth spot, about 15 minutes off the lead. But I was dying, and Guimard thought I was probably all through for this year. When we got to the French Alps, I was still over 12 minutes behind the leader. But you know how I feel about mountains." In one heady week he passed five riders and powered his way up to third place, wheezing and coughing all the way.

And now comes this week's world championship race in Barcelona, in which LeMond will defend his title. Happily, he's now reached the stage where his career doesn't hang on one event; indeed, this is clearly a transitional season for him.

More or less as expected this year, Kelly leaped into a strong early lead in the Prestige series and now seems all but unbeatable. Even with the 110 Pernod points he got in the Tour de France, Fignon only eased into fourth in the standings; Anderson is currently second, Hinault is third, Francesco Moser of Italy is fifth and LeMond sixth. "There's no catching Kelly," LeMond says. "But I figure I'll finish second or third in the Prestige Cup, which is fine with us. And next year the plan will be different all over again: I'll attack early in the season and make a run for it all year long."

That might even include racing for a new team. Last week LeMond admitted he was considering an offer from Hinault's La Vie Claire team, but said he wouldn't make an announcement about it until later this year.

Meanwhile, with Kathy and Geoffrey; with cheeseburgers and peanut butter on demand; with a new Mercedes and another one on order; with adoring neighbors (the paint's off the windows, but the finish line still shows faintly on the street); with an expensive home in Sacramento and investment properties there and in Reno; with a hefty disability insurance policy and money in the bank and all the bikes he can burn—LeMond's life is good indeed.

He may or may not be serious about changing teams, but for now, LeMond's base pay from Renault-Elf-Gitane is in "oh, six figures," LeMond says self-consciously. Most estimates put it at $200,000 or more a year. His contract also provides the rent for his house in Kortrijk (or wherever in Europe he might choose to live), eight round-trip plane tickets a year to the States, a credit card that provides free Elf gas and products anywhere in France (since Kortrijk is close to the border, the LeMonds can nip over and fill the tanks), plus a $25,000 bonus for each major victory, up to three races a year. LeMond keeps all money from appearances and endorsements and most of his considerable purses. He shares some of the latter with the domestiques on the 18-man Renault team, those worker-racers who provide strategic drafting support to help the stars win. But, wait. There's more.

The contract also provides LeMond with two free Renault cars each year, one for his home in Europe and one for the States—"I've got a Jeep Wagoneer in California," LeMond says, "and I've got this wagon here. I can pick any model I want except the top of the line luxury sedan. But heck, I suppose they'd even give me one of those if I really insisted on it."

One measure of the regard in which LeMond is held is that Renault officials swallow hard and manfully overlook that he buzzes around Europe in a $45,000 Mercedes. The contract is said to run through 1985, at which time it will be negotiated upward. If LeMond is still with Renault, that is.

Viewed from the U.S., it's hard for many folks to understand such superstar status and the remuneration that comes with it in a sport that draws such little interest here. Kathy LeMond comes from La Crosse, Wis., where the reaction is typical. "When we're there visiting in the off-season," she says, "some of my old school friends will say, 'Oh, you're married to a bicycle racer. A bike racer? Poor dear girl. How much money does he make?' And I always ask them, 'Well, how much money does your husband make at 23?' They just can't grasp how insanely popular this sport is."

And now Greg, Kathy, Geoffrey and some friends pile into the car and dash off to Holland, to a village called Woerden, where there'll be an evening criterium. It'll be a 60-miler, 71 laps around the town square, before a paying crowd of 35,000 or so delirious fans. LeMond has been training hard, in Belgium and in the Swiss mountains, riding six hours a day, some 55 miles in the morning and 60 in the evening. Many of his workouts around Kortrijk are done at top speed behind a pacing motorbike. "I'm like a dope addict," he says. "If I don't train hard, I get withdrawal pains." This morning he has done 50 miles or so, and the evening race will be strictly for further conditioning. Well, almost.

"It works like this," says Kathy. "The promoter pays appearance money to the better-known pros, as much as $5,000 for the star of the show. It's nice, of course, but it's a shame in a way that Greg and Phil Anderson can't ride together in these things—the promoter usually can't afford more than one top star." The big-time racers, in turn, sometimes allow the hometown favorite to win—so that the locals can forever proudly point to good old whoozis, who beat the famous Greg LeMoooonnnnd, or whomever. It's a fine European tradition, recognized but unspoken, that keeps everybody happy. Sometimes the hometown favorite wins anyway, supported as he often is by a team of riders while the star usually goes it alone.

In the main event at Woerden, LeMond rides easily in the pack. He's cranking along at his normal racing pace, in which he instinctively moves his legs at 90 revolutions per minute; it's a pace he can hold for endless hours. At this speed his heart is running 130 beats a minute, normal for the pace; in hard sprints, it surges up to 170 or so. But with just 11 laps to go, he has to sing for his supper, in a manner of speaking. He suddenly wheels toward the lead, with no drafting help. LeMoooonnnnd is in third! Then LeMond is in second. LeMond takes the lead! The crowd goes absolutely bonkers. In the stands, Kathy sits relaxed, with Geoffrey bundled in her lap. She isn't watching the race at the moment; her friends stand in front of her, forming a tight barricade so she can nurse the baby in a semblance of privacy. And the race ends in bedlam: LeMoooonnnd finishes fifth.

The crowd swirls around the hometown rider who won. LeMond graciously congratulates him. Adoring fans surround Greg, hands reaching out, touching and patting him. And this pleasant youngster looks up into the stands and grins at his wife. He could only be an American kid at this moment, ingenuous and open, fresh-faced and with not too much cynicism in him yet—happy with his princely role in European biking. He mouths the words toward Kathy: Tr√®s bon! says Greg LeMoooonnnnd.

PHOTOPHOTOLeMond chats up Fignon (in green) before the start of the Tour de France, which Fignon won.PHOTOFignon wears a yellow jersey as leader of the Tour; LeMond's white means he's the leading rookie.PHOTOAs a driver, team director Guimard knows he'd better keep up with his spirited star, or else.PHOTORobert and Bertha are the parental wheels in the LeMond family.PHOTOKathy has her hands full with Greg's racing jersey, including rainbow-striped ones emblematic of world champ.PHOTOBringing up baby in Kortrijk has its ablutionary interludes for Kathy and Greg at the kitchen sink.PHOTOLeMond was the first American to become world champ.PHOTOKathy got a kiss when Greg won the '82 lour de l'Avenir.PHOTOIn the 22nd (and penultimate) stage of the Tour de France, a 28-mile individual race against the clock held before enthusiastic fans, LeMond was fourth.