Delgado, LeMond and Fignon reached the base of L'Alpe d'Huez together, paced by a Colombian, Abelardo Rondon, a teammate of Delgado's. LeMond knew—as did the others—that if he could stay with them during that climb, he would almost certainly win the Tour. It was the last major test before the time trial into Paris, and time trials being LeMond's forte, if he could retain his 53-second lead, he would be all but uncatchable.
Rondon set a very fast pace from the outset, too fast for LeMond's liking. He was hurting, gritting his teeth to keep up. Delgado apparently wasn't faring much better, for he finally shouted to his teammate to slow down.
Seven kilometers from the top, halfway up L'Alpe d'Huez, LeMond began running out of energy. When he is truly laboring, as he was now, LeMond's shoulders start to bob back and forth. Fignon's coach, Cyrille Guimard, recognized the signs immediately. In 1980, Guimard, then with the Renault team, had signed LeMond to his first European contract. So Guimard sped his car up to Fignon and shouted to him, in French, "You've got to go now! Right now!"
LeMond, just ahead, could hear every word, but he resisted the urge to look back lest Fignon recognize the look of panic on his face. "I can't do it," Fignon replied. "I can't."
Guimard's car dropped back. The pace continued as before. LeMond's shoulders continued to rock. Four kilometers before the finish Guimard drove up to Fignon again and yelled, "Attack him now! You've got to go now!"
Fignon went bolting past LeMond and Delgado. Delgado responded, but LeMond couldn't keep up. With three kilometers to go, he had dropped 35 seconds behind. Two kilometers from the top, LeMond was 52 seconds back. He gathered what reserves he could and finished the stage 1:19 behind Fignon and Delgado, who had ridden together to the top. LeMond had lost the overall lead. Once again, the yellow jersey was Fignon's.
Still, LeMond trailed Fignon by only 26 seconds, a margin he was confident he could make up in the final time trial into Paris. Fignon, too, was uncomfortable with so narrow a lead, and he made a daring solo attack the next day during the relatively short (57-mile) 18th stage. The attack caught LeMond by surprise. Fignon, riding the last 14 miles alone, won the stage by 24 seconds, increasing his overall lead to 50 seconds over a dejected LeMond. When Greg saw Kathy afterward, his first words were, "Maybe I lost the Tour today."
He certainly had, as far as everyone else was concerned. The French media crowed about Fignon's panache and forgave him his past indiscretions. In postmortem tones newspapers and television commentators praised LeMond for lending drama and gumption to the race. No one seriously entertained the notion that he still had a chance to win, particularly after he gained no time on Fignon in the 19th stage—the final one in the mountains—despite outsprinting Fignon to the finish in Aix-les-Bains for his second stage win of the Tour.
Even Fignon believed the race was over. He told LeMond before the 20th and penultimate stage—an uneventful ride during which everyone saved his strength for the next day's time trial—"You raced a great race, Greg. I have to tell you, my coach, Guimard, predicted that this is the way it would finish, me winning and you second. He said at the Tour of Italy, you'd be the most dangerous rider."
LeMond thanked him and told Fignon that he, too, had raced a great race, particularly over the last few days. But he was thinking, It's not over yet, pal. And you're not psyching me into quitting.