Then again, LeMond seems a good bet to succeed. No American had won the Tour de France before LeMond won the race in 1986. But in 1987 he nearly bled to death after his brother-in-law accidentally shot him in the back while they were hunting wild turkeys. In LeMond's torso there are still about 40 lead shotgun pellets that doctors decided to leave there rather than risk causing further damage by removing them. LeMond went through a grueling, yearlong rehabilitation program that led eventually to a stirring come-from-behind victory at the 1989 Tour de France.
But in 1991 he began to experience severe fatigue, and his performance soon started to fall off. In 1994, as part of a battery of tests, he underwent a muscle biopsy. LeMond pulls up his shorts to reveal the worm like scar on his thigh where doctors sliced off six strips of muscle—"like sashimi," he likes to say. The diagnosis was mitochondria myopathy, a rare disorder in which the mitochondria in his cells are inhibited from converting fat calories to energy at the rate needed by a world-class athlete.
"If I was sitting behind a desk all day, I'd never know I have it," says LeMond, whose two sisters are now being tested for the disorder. "I could probably compete locally in bike races and still win, but after you've raced at the Tour de France level, it's like a guy who's raced Indy cars going back to racing in this series or in go-karts."
LeMond has taken the step back to the bush leagues, albeit in another sport. There is something odd about seeing the U.S.'s greatest cyclist in an entry-level racing series filled with aspiring unknowns and wealthy businessmen looking for a hobby. Former Indy 500 champ Bobby Rahal stopped by the Miller Brothers paddock at the Florida Grand Prix, where he was advising a team in another series, to tell LeMond that he has been a fan of his for years.
Others flocked to the rookie and presented an odd array of paraphernalia for him to autograph: cycling jerseys, baseball caps embroidered with an emblem of his number 83 Ford, Tour de France posters and Grand Prix programs. They didn't seem to mind that LeMond crashed early, and they eagerly asked what happened.
"That guy T-boned me," LeMond said. "I wish this was like bike racing, where you have spares. I wanted to get back out there and race." Though he's now a middle-of-the pack rookie, LeMond's spirit has not changed. He has cut down on the road rash, but he's still looking to become-a champion in yellow.