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CyclingTips’ roving reporter Dave Everett recently caught up with three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and, in addition to going for a ride, the pair sat down to talk about LeMond’s career, the Tour de France and cycling more generally.
In this first part of a two-part interview, LeMond talks about returning to the Tour de France years after his last race, what it was like racing against teammates and ex-teammates, and how he got into the sport in the first place. Read on for Dave’s story about what it was like to meet and interview one of his heroes.
by Dave Everett
Not all wise words should be adhered to and I’m glad I disregarded the saying that goes “never meet your heroes, you’ll only be disappointed”. Had I listened to that advice I wouldn’t have had one of the most memorable days of my life. But first let me rewind a little.
It’s July 23, 1989 and I’m eight years old. It’s 5:30pm and my dad, a fanatical cyclist, has Channel 4 on. The half-hour Le Tour program is coming to a climax. All I remember is a guy in a bright yellow kit coming round a left-hand turn on to what I’d eventually learn is the pave of the Champs-Elysees.
He powers across the finishing line, clambers off the bike, and the next striking image is the same guy looking up at the digital clock. He’s shocked and overjoyed then engulfed within a sea of people looking equally as flabbergasted. The other guy with long hair and spectacles slumps and collapses amongst the metal barriers. The crowd give him a small amount of room and time to take in what has just happened.
With his head in his hands and sat against the barriers, the huge disappointment is not lost in translation, even to an eight-year-old boy.
My parents, two sisters and myself are all engrossed in what has just taken place. We’re all sat within two feet of the small Radio Rentals TV, my dad and I perched on the coffee table as if getting closer to the TV would tell us more than sitting comfortably on the sofa a few extra feet away.
As a first memory of the Tour — or any televised bike race for that matter — it’s not a bad one, and one that clearly made a huge impression upon me. I was soon to learn who the two men were, Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon. I’d admire both, LeMond for winning and looking oh so cool, and Fignon for his quiet and determined character.
From then on I’d catch the Tour every summer, dashing in from playing outside (usually on my bike) to watch the 30 minutes of action unfold throughout July. New heroes each year would be made and yet again impress me, but Greg and Laurent were the ones that helped cement a passion for a sport; a passion that, to a large extent, has defined who I am.
Fast forward to this July and the finish of stage 12 in Saint Etienne. Outside the large stadium where the peloton has just recently thundered past Greg LeMond is finishing up filming for Eurosport. Standing to one side is Kathy, his wife. I wander over just before Greg finishes his piece to camera. Fans are milling about, waiting for photos and autographs. I accost Kathy for a second, asking if it would be possible to get just five minutes of Greg’s time for a quick interview.
Then over wanders Greg, clearly in a bit of a rush as he has more TV spots to film but still friendly and warm, shaking me by the hand he introduces himself. I’m trying to keep it together, though not very successfully, even at this early stage. As Greg, Kathy and myself walk to the fence that hems the Tour’s vast number of TV trucks and campervans in to a compound, I’m trying to stop my head from “frying”. I’m chatting to Greg LeMond.
Here I’ll cut the story short, for fear of embarrassing myself a little too much. But suffice to say I struggled to keep it together. I could blame the hot July sun beating down on me, or the mad dash of chasing the Tour about, but the fact of the matter is meeting a childhood idol of mine out of the blue was a just little too much. I’d not expected to get overawed by meeting Greg, but that’s exactly what happened.
After I pulled myself together with the help of Greg and Kathy, who were being extremely understanding and helpful (which actually made it even more awkward for me), they agreed to an interview.
Allow me to skip ahead. With the help of Shane Stokes, who I was working alongside, and who it turns out is pretty matey with the LeMonds, a few days later I’m pulling up to a typical-looking old French farm building that’s been converted into a holiday apartment. Here the LeMond family and a few friends are staying during the second rest day of the Tour de France.
With my bike in the boot and a camera fully charged, I’m ready for not just the five-minute interview that I’d initially asked for but a spin out on the bike with Greg, his son, and a few of his mates.
This time around, though, I’d prepared myself — a good talking to on the drive over (always a good sign talking to oneself) helped calm my nerves.
As soon as I meet Kathy and Greg they put me at ease. Greg wandered over, shook me by the hand (he has huge hands by the way) and apologised for running a little late — he’d been putting the finishing touches on his new bike.
Myself and three guys from a French LeMond fan club wait outside the house, all looking like it’s our birthday. Borrowing a track pump from one of the guys to pump his tyres up Greg is already talking tech. All told there’s seven of us: Greg, his son Scott, the three guys from the LeMond fan club, myself, and a friend of Greg’s from Time bikes.
As surreal experiences go, riding with Greg is up there. With Greg testing out a new prototype steel LeMond frame, we were treated to what his son Scott (I forgot to ask if he’s named after the TT bars that helped Greg take the ’89 Tour win) called a true LeMond ride. The inaugural ride on the bike showed that Greg still is a perfectionist when it comes to bike setup.
Clearly able to feel every millimetre of a bike’s dimensions, I lost count of how many times we stopped so that he could adjust the seat post, gears or stem. But it was a pleasure to watch the guy in action, either tinkering with the bike or powering around the lanes close to Carcassonne.
What struck me most though, as I sat behind him and watched him descend (apparently cautiously for him as it was a bit damp) I could see the same position, the clear ease of handling and fluid lines that I’d watched on TV years before. It was something that I’d not expected — sure he’s carrying a few extra pounds but watching him ride was a blast. Even retired and with several years since he last raced, I could still see the class and the perfect position he held.
I hope you enjoy part one of this interview even a fraction as much as I did making it.
Click here for part two of the interview.