Greg LeMond recalls it as a simple conversation. Lance Armstrong
had just donned the yellow jersey after winning the prologue of
last July's Tour de France, and LeMond called Armstrong to tell
him, "If you're good enough to win this stage, you're good
enough to win the Tour." Three weeks later LeMond was proved
correct, as Armstrong, capping an arduous recovery from
testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain, became
only the second American--after LeMond, now 38, who won three
times between 1986 and '90--to win the world's premier cycling
If this heroic comeback seems a familiar Tour story line, it
should, for it is eerily reminiscent of LeMond's triumph of a
decade ago. In April 1987 LeMond was accidentally shot by his
brother-in-law while turkey hunting on ranch land in Lincoln,
Calif. LeMond nearly bled to death and endured months of
rehabilitation, but he returned to cycling the following summer,
and in July '89, with buckshot still lodged in the lining of his
heart, he turned in one of cycling's most dramatic performances.
LeMond's strong finish in the prologue, like Armstrong's, showed
the rider he could once again win. Two thousand miles later, on
the final day of the race, he overcame the gaping 50-second lead
of archrival Laurent Fignon--who collapsed in disbelieving agony
upon learning he had lost--to win the Tour by eight seconds.
LeMond's win brought him SI's 1989 Sportsman of the Year award
and vaulted his sport into the American psyche. "Lance did the
same thing for cycling this year. He made up for last year's
disgrace," says LeMond, referring to the drug scandal that
rocked the '98 Tour.
After successfully defending his Tour title in 1990, LeMond was
found to have mitochondrial myopathy, a cellular disorder that
sapped his energy and forced him to retire from cycling in '94.
Until last year he sated his competitiveness by racing cars in
FF2000 events, but he decided he wanted to spend more time with
his family--wife Kathy, sons Geoffrey, 15, and Scott, 12, and
daughter Simone, 10--at their home in Medina, Minn. He continues
consulting for a bicycle company while also participating in
dozens of charity rides nationwide, albeit at a slower pace. "I
don't want to sound boastful, but if I'd stayed healthy, I might
have won six Tours," he says. "To really judge my career, you
have to look deeper."
December 20, 1999
Best, then, to start in Paris one decade ago, on the day America
discovered its first cycling hero, dressed in yellow.
"I don't want to sound boastful," says LeMond, "but if I'd
stayed healthy, I might have won six Tours."