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An American Takes Paris
E.M. Swift
August 04, 1986
Pushed to the limit by Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond (in yellow) rode to a historic win in the Tour de France.
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August 04, 1986

An American Takes Paris

Pushed to the limit by Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond (in yellow) rode to a historic win in the Tour de France.

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The mental stress was taking its toll on LeMond, who found himself unable to enjoy his pending victory. "I can't even face him," he said. "We aren't talking. I have no respect for him anymore. I'll be happy when it's over and I'm on the Champs-Elysées, because I'll know that I've done it myself. He hasn't helped me one iota. I know I'll never be friends with him again after this race. Not the way he's treated me."

Hinault's last real chance to make up the 2:43 by which he trailed LeMond came last Thursday at St.-Etienne, during a 58-kilometer individual time trial. These so-called "races of truth" are Hinault's specialty. It was a cool day, overcast, and the tension before the start was palpable. Hinault was shaking visibly, and LeMond was not only nervous about the race but also was fearful that a spectator would throw something at him or knock him off his bike. "I feel like I'm one rider against all of France." he had said. They were the last two riders of the day. Hinault would start three minutes before LeMond.

LeMond wasn't worried about Hinault taking away his 2:43 lead in one chunk—he was riding too well for that. He wanted to win to show all of France that he deserved to be champion. After 20 kilometers, LeMond led Hinault by eight seconds; 31 kilometers into the race, Hinault led by four seconds. Then came the fall. Taking a righthand turn too swiftly through the town of St.-Chamond, LeMond slid down at a spot where two other riders had tumbled. He bounced up quickly and started off, but three kilometers later stopped once again, this time to switch bikes, having damaged his brakes in the crash. He had lost perhaps 30 seconds—no more—and when he flashed across the finish line after 1 hour, 16 minutes and I second, he found he had lost to Hinault by 25 seconds. They had finished 1-2, but LeMond retired to his trailer in tears. He later reemerged ashen-faced to receive his yellow jersey, a ceremony that takes place every day. Then he disappeared in record time to find his solace.

Ironically, it was about that time—while LeMond was sitting in tears—that Hinault threw in the towel, announcing to the press: "Le Tour est fini. LeMond has won the Tour." Later, when pressed, Hinault expanded on his relentless pursuit of his teammate. "People think I wasn't too nice to Greg, and he may think so, too. But I pushed him to go to his very limit. He knows now to which point he can go, and this will help him in the future. You know, I never saw any reason not to go as fast as I can."

It was the only way le Blaireau has ever known. And, still, it was not enough. In years to come LeMond will remember that when some young lion claws at him. "It was probably good to see how I performed under pressure," LeMond admitted when the race was finally settled. "That's Bernard. That's the way he is. He's a champion."

And that makes two of them.

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