In the countryside near Lucerne, in Switzerland, high mountain meadows fall away toward improbably perfect villages. Over these a single ribbon of blacktop road snakes upward, and now, climbing from the valley floor, comes the lone figure of a cyclist, standing on the pedals. The figure disappears from time to time on the tight switchbacks, then reappears at a still higher level, heading for Klausen Pass. It's important to note the rider's style of attack: His body is curled forward, but not bobbing; beneath him, the bike sways sharply from side to side with each powerful downstroke of his legs. The bicycle weaves among beige cows maundering along the road, as the rider ascends higher and higher.
He's sweating profusely, great shining drops falling from his nose and jawline, and he's breathing through his mouth. But oddly enough, his face shows no pain on the 7-to-12% grade in thinning air approaching 4,200 feet. He won't call it quits on this training run until he's in the snow line on the pass at 6,437 feet. The cyclist pulls alongside a slowly moving support car, a Mercedes 190, and as he sits for a moment, still pedaling, he leans over and looks in the window at the supplies jumbled in the back seat.
The best that one can expect to hear at this point is perhaps a strangled death rattle. But instead:
"You guys got any more of those apple turnovers left?" he says. "Is there any more Coke?"
The last of the apple turnovers bought at the village below is handed out the car window to him. Three bites and it's gone. A half-full two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola is handed over and he gulps it down, swallowing noisily. Then he burps approvingly and says, "See you at the top."
"So what do you think of this mountain?" he's asked.
He grins. "It is nossing, dollink," he says. He picked up the expression from a writer friend; now he says it a lot. And then he's gone, standing on the pedals again, somehow gaining speed through the next switchback. The Mercedes trundles along obediently behind. In low gear.
Thus a day in the life of Gregory James LeMond. He's 23 and the reigning world pro champion, the toast of the Continent, where bike racers are a form of royalty. And, of all things, he's an American. No, no, more than that: the quintessential American, a true Innocent Abroad, open-faced and still full of wonder. He's a touseled blond with light-blue eyes, a sort of Huck Finn with steel thighs. He's a family man and a proud new papa. Throughout Europe, they say his name with awe and stretch it out approvingly: Greg LeMoooonnnnd.
This June interlude in Switzerland comes just before the 24-day Tour de France, the most prestigious event on the pro circuit, in which LeMond will finish a most creditable third. To put that into perspective, bear in mind that he was only the second U.S. competitor in the 81-year history of the Tour. He was also the first non-European ever to make it into the top three. "I was almost disappointed," he would say later. "I'd half-expected to win the thing."
Let's face it, it's patently impossible for a kid from Washoe County, Nev. to be picked up from the mountain canyons around Reno and dropped right in among the most formidable racers in the world—and go wheel to wheel with them. There were the likes of France's Bernard Hinault, a four-time winner of the Tour, and his countryman Laurent Fignon, who won the event in '83 and would again this year; Italy's Giuseppe Saronni, the world champ for '82, and Sean Kelly of Ireland, the king of the cobblestone courses and the current world points leader. Yet there was LeMond, clearly not cowed, certainly not surprised to find himself racing with them and in many cases beating them. He is, after all, the only American and the youngest of only four racers in history to win the world championship and the Super Prestige Pernod Trophy—cycling's World Cup—in the same year. Indeed, Hinault himself has allowed that "LeMond will ride over my body," meaning that the American would one day succeed him as the world's best racer. And other experts say flatly, shrugging, palms up, that LeMond will one day become the best rider the sport has ever known.