Two weeks later, on Sept. 20, 1982, LeMond won the Tour de l'Avenir, a 12-day, 837-mile trek through the French Alps, by a world-record 10 minutes, 18 seconds. The victory—and that margin—stunned Europe, LEMOND LA BOMBE! said the monthly L'Équipe on its cover.
"Mr. Studdly himself," says Kathy.
LeMond continued to bomb away. Last season he won the Dauphiné Libéré and finished fourth in the Tour of Switzerland—both contested on mountain courses of the kind he loves—and then came September's world championship race at Altenrhein, Switzerland. "And that one," he says, "was a bear." They had laid out the course on a 9.48-mile circuit, 170.58 miles in all. Each lap presented more than 600 vertical feet of climbing—and at the very top there was a killer 10% grade for two miles. "Each time up, my lungs were on fire," LeMond says. "And coming down, I mean, totally flat out, my eyes would water with the speed—tears streaming back along my temples and probably flying off like, you know, driving a car in the rain. But racing's like that: You're zooming 40 and 50 miles an hour downhill and you're trying to see everything, straining to peek around the corners when there's no way to see what's ahead. Listen, it's dangerous. I jam the webs of my hands against the bars and hook my two front fingers over the brakes. Some of the guys prefer to lead coming off the tops of mountains; they want to set their own line through the turns. Not me. I try to pop in there in second or third spot and then I watch them. If they crash, I can slow down in time. Some sections of the roads are loose gravel—racing fans love to watch you skidding down through that stuff, catching rocks in your teeth. But I force myself to stay as calm as I can: If they lose me on the downhill, I'll kill them on the uphill."
This grind went on for seven hours, one minute and 21 seconds, and when it was all over, LeMond had won by a remarkable 1:11, burying such notables as Kelly, Saronni and Fignon (Boyer finished 30th). "Never," sighed Merckx, "did I win a world championship by so much time."
After that landmark, a second place in the Grand Prix des Nations, a 56-mile time trial near Cannes, put LeMond into the Prestige Trophy lead, and he followed up with a fourth in the Blois-Chaville and a second behind Kelly in the Tour of Lombardy to take the title.
This season Guimard and his ace rider concentrated on the Tour de France—"Greg will win it one day, of course," Guimard says—not worrying about the other early-season events. As it happened, LeMond entered the Tour one year earlier than they had planned "because I seem to be maturing faster than expected," he says.
Maturity is an elusive condition that varies from racer to racer. LeMond is just one year younger than his teammate, Fignon, but LeMond seems to be growing steadily stronger while others his age have peaked.
"Well, the Tour's the daddy of them all," LeMond says, "and I'll tell you, it was tough. First thing, I came down with bronchitis and a sore throat. Bad luck, right? The trouble with getting sick on the Tour is that you've got no go-to-bed time. So if you get sick, you ride sick. The first two weeks I was hanging in there in about eighth spot, about 15 minutes off the lead. But I was dying, and Guimard thought I was probably all through for this year. When we got to the French Alps, I was still over 12 minutes behind the leader. But you know how I feel about mountains." In one heady week he passed five riders and powered his way up to third place, wheezing and coughing all the way.
And now comes this week's world championship race in Barcelona, in which LeMond will defend his title. Happily, he's now reached the stage where his career doesn't hang on one event; indeed, this is clearly a transitional season for him.
More or less as expected this year, Kelly leaped into a strong early lead in the Prestige series and now seems all but unbeatable. Even with the 110 Pernod points he got in the Tour de France, Fignon only eased into fourth in the standings; Anderson is currently second, Hinault is third, Francesco Moser of Italy is fifth and LeMond sixth. "There's no catching Kelly," LeMond says. "But I figure I'll finish second or third in the Prestige Cup, which is fine with us. And next year the plan will be different all over again: I'll attack early in the season and make a run for it all year long."