Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happy Birthday to the Greatest American Cyclist

I've been on a book tear lately, quickly consuming titles like Sweat of the Gods and Laurent Fignon: We Were Young and Carefree. Today, I received my copy of Slaying the Badger and can't wait to start reading again. You see, Greg Lemond was my Lance Armstrong. I'm not going to get into the Greg vs. Lance debate, even though I have some opinions. There are message boards seemingly dedicated to the subject.


The first two books went into good detail as to what Greg's miracle Tour win in 1989 represented. It was a real turning point in cycling. Old school versus new school. A shift in technology. Television versus radio and print.

Greg brought the latest wave of big money to the sport (when you consider that in their day, riders like Girardengo, Binda and the Pelissier brothers were making what would be considered outrageous sums).

The list of technical innovations that he pioneered or was an early-adopter is impressive. TT-specific bars, Oakley glasses, clipless pedals, power meters, electronic shifting, titanium and carbon frames and on and on.


His comeback from the shooting accident was inspiring and unlikely. How many Tours could he have won without the accident? He may not have that record, but his career accomplishments leave me with no doubt...

He raced to win, from February to October. When was the last time a Tour winner lined up as a favorite in Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo? The eight seconds are testament to his determination to win the Tour, and even that has its controversy. Those clip-on bars were not entirely legal at that point, and why Cyrille Guimard didn't protest is beyond me.

Most impressive is that he did all this as an outsider in an old-world sport. His triumphs were an unwelcome revelation to cycling's old guard. In his early days in Europe, there was no support group and few Americans to lean on. When everyone tells you that you can't... who can you turn to? His methods and creature comforts were laughed at. Scandalous were the reports from Europe that a cyclist would eat ice cream or Mexican food! Golfing? Spending time with your family? Perhaps the world was primed for a change. His respect for the sport and willingness to fit in on his own terms eventually won the hearts of European fans.


His strong anti-doping stance at a time when mules became thoroughbreds eventually spelled the end of his career. He was left wondering why he couldn't keep up and searched for explanations, overtraining in a hopeless race to form.

To me, he was the first and the greatest. Happy Birthday, Greg Lemond. Thank you for opening my eyes to this sport and leading me down this long road.

3 comments:

  1. Happy birthday,
    Mister LeMond,
    AndreasBurkert (Dublin),
    Munich

    ReplyDelete
  2. he's a hero to me as well! inspired me as a junior racer, and I even have a memento souvenir stone from his driveway. dude is a legend.

    ReplyDelete