December 25, 1989-January 1, 1990
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 race.
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."
Best, then, to start in Paris one decade ago, on the day America discovered its first cycling hero, dressed in yellow.