There’s been a lot of talk recently about a former American cycling legend and his tarnished legacy. It’s probably time to review the achievements of the original American Cycling Legend so that he might once again be properly considered as a cycling great and a pioneer.

I give you Greg LeMond.

Most casual (American) sports fans can tell you Lance Armstrong won a bunch of Tour de Frances.  Many can even tell you the actual victory total is seven.  Very few of them will even recall the name of LeMond.  That’s a shame, because his story is almost as remarkable as Armstrong’s fiction and the fact that the former champion was bankrupted by the latter fraud makes the story only more poignent.

LeMond & Hinault in 1986

LeMond & Hinault in 1986

Before LeMond, no non-European had ever won the Tour de France.  Ever.  He finished third in his first-ever TdF (1983) and won the Young Rider classification.  The next year he finished second, helping his teammate, the great Bernard Hinault, win his fifth tour.  Most analysts believe LeMond could have beaten Hinault except team managers insisted he ride in support of the Frenchman.  Hinault promised to return the favor the next year and instead battled his teammate tooth and nail.  Despite the disloyalty, LeMond won his first TdF.

1989 - note the aerobars, pedals, sunglasses, and helmet

1989 – note the aerobars, pedals, sunglasses, and helmet

In 1987, LeMond suffered a dramatic setback akin to Armstrong’s cancer diagnosis when he was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law while turkey hunting.  After almost dying and with 35 pellets still in his body, two year’s of rehabilitation ensued.  Hoping to finish in the top 20 of the 1989 tour, LeMond won the whole thing behind a breathtaking time trial on the final stage, beating Laurent Fignon with an average speed of 55.5 km/hr (that’s 34.5 mph – try it sometime) – a record at the time which has only been bested twice since then.  Later in 1989, he won the World Cycling Championships.

That year, LeMond was Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman Of The Year, the first cyclist to win the award.

"Team Z"

“Team Z”

In 1990, LeMond won his third and final TdF after signing a record-breaking contract with $5.5 million to ride with Z-Tomasso (aka “Team Z”).  He won the tour without winning a single stage, taking the yellow jersey on the second to last day after yet another strong time trial performance.

LeMond continued to compete for four more years but grew increasingly less relevant in the general classification category.  He finished 7th in 1991, abandoned in 1992, was too exhausted to enter the race in 1993, he retired in 1994 after being forced to abandon once again.

In addition to his first-ever tour wins for a non-European, LeMond was a pioneer of cycling technology which we take for granted today, including the use of aerobars on time trials and the measurement of power (watts) in training regimens.  He was the first rider to win the tour on a carbon-framed bicycle and successfully use clipless pedals.  He played a big role in the success of Oakley sunglasses and Giro helmets, endorsing their products and improving their designs.

In 1990, LeMond founded LeMond Bicycles.  In 1995, the company partnered with Trek Bicycles.  Trek would eventually go on to sponsor Lance Armstrong.  When LeMond (always a strong opponent of doping in the tour) made comments questioning Armstrong’s achievements, it led to several years of bickering between him and Trek.  The acrimonious relationship eventually led to court suits in 2006 and an eight year feud with Armstrong.  Many people felt that LeMond was motivated by jealousy over the fact he had lost his position as America’s Greatest Cyclist.  Supporters argued that LeMond was simply being consistent with his strong anti-doping advocacy.

Whatever his motivations, it is now apparent that he was right.

So let us reflect on the achievements of Greg LeMond, three-time TdF winner, the first non-European to win the tour, a man who overcame a near-death accident, a pioneer in cycling technology, and a staunch advocate of anti-doping measures.  Theres a lot to be said for a career like that.

Further Reading

Greg LeMond Webpage

Cycling Hall of Fame


23 thoughts on “LeMond

  1. Lemond is certainly one of the greats (THE great?) in American cycling. Really a class act; he had some good things to say a few months ago regarding Lance and McQuaid, demanding McQuaid’s resignation and all.

    I didn’t realize he popularized the use of power in training! That’s really interesting

  2. Excellent article and very timely! A footnote on the doping situation, if I may: LeMond believes that he could have won more TdFs after his last one in 1990, but that doping was becoming more and more prevalent in the peloton. He was confused at how riders he would easily beat in a time trial (for example) were producing such faster times in the early 90s. I can only faintly imagine the frustration that must have caused, if it is true.

    • I read that as well, Gerry. LeMond says that in his final year (1994) people told him flat out that if he wanted to win again he would need to dope. This factored (along with his dismal track record the previous three years) in his decision to retire.

      • Great article Steve. Always been a Lemond fan and always very disappointed at the way he was let down by Trek and Armstrong. His contribution to time trialling and the technology advances of the sport and often overlooked. Bravo for reminding us all!

  3. I loved loved loved this post thank you! And it fits right in with your history theme. I’ve been trying to motivate myself to research and write some cycling history posts but am just not getting there … howmuch better and more preferable that you do it!!:-) Good job, thanks!!

    • That’s very kind of you to say, Suze! I enjoy these occasional trips down memory lane. There are a lot of great stories out there and it’s always nice to put a little context to the news of the day.

  4. Hi Steve sorry for the late comment on this item. I too was a big Lemond fan, and remember with great fondness the 8 second victory in the tour. I watched it live that day. I’ve just returned from holiday in Sri Lanka, and Sri Lankan Airways had the bicycle currier movie showing, you mentioned the other week (cant remember the name).

    • Premium Rush was the movie – good airplane fare, I think.

      I hope you were able to do some cycling in Sri Lanka. It’s a fair bit warmer down there, I would think!

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