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Leigh Montville
July 30, 1990
After a spring plagued by illness, Greg LeMond won his third Tour de France by a healthy margin
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July 30, 1990


After a spring plagued by illness, Greg LeMond won his third Tour de France by a healthy margin

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"It's strange to American thinking, but that's the way it is," LeMond's father, Bob, said. "You don't take a saddle horse and ask him to win the Kentucky Derby, do you? You don't come into the Super Bowl and say, hey, maybe we'll have a lineman replace Joe Montana at quarterback. But that's the way it is in cycling."

For two days in the Alps, as the Tour continued its clockwise trip around the French road map, LeMond could not attack. He felt fine. He was in the mountains, where he does some of his best work. He still could not attack. When Pensec finally lost the yellow jersey to Chiappucci in the time trials in the 12th stage, the race was more than half done. LeMond trailed Chiappucci by 7:27.

Somehow, he remained confident. The spring had been awful, with the virus keeping him in the back of the pack in most of his races. The European press had derided him for eating cheeseburgers, for playing golf, for not caring. He had been spat upon and heckled at a three-day race in Belgium, where he lives half of the year. He had finished 78th in the Tour de Trump in the U.S., riding with the nobodies, pedaling as hard as he could but unable to go fast. The idea that he was fit now, ready to go, gave LeMond strength. Why couldn't he win again? He knew how.

LeMond's first move came in the next stage. He jumped Chiappucci between Villard de Lans and St. Etienne, knocking the lead down to 2:34. There was a perfect moment at the end of the day's 149-kilometer race when, with the finish line in sight, LeMond motioned four other riders in the lead group to go ahead of him. It was as if he were saying, "Go ahead, boys. You can pose on the bandstand with Miss Rhône Alps and her décolletage for today's glory. I'm planning to pose in Paris."

The next two days were simply a matter of waiting for the big day in the Pyrenees. Was there any doubt LeMond would attack? Was there any doubt Chiappucci would falter? All of this was written in the form charts as surely as if it were Saratoga in August. Wasn't it?

Again, Chiappucci surprised. A 27-year-old rider with the Carrera team, he had always been one of the worker ants in the peloton, a domestique, helping other, more famous riders succeed. This was the race of his life, and he attacked it that way. He held a 2:24 lead over LeMond that morning and went to the front early in the 215-kilometer uphill, downhill marathon between Blagnac and Luz Ardiden. For most of the way, it was Chiappucci who heard the first cheers on mountain roads crowded with campers and backslappers. He wore the yellow jersey as if it were a suit of armor against the heat and the form book and, well, the truth.

"It was my best moment," he later said. "To prove that I am something more than I am supposed to be."

In the end, though, Chiappucci faltered. LeMond moved at the top of the Col du Tourmalet and kept moving. By the time he was passing his wife's stalled van, four kilometers from the finish, he was ahead of Chiappucci and putting more distance and time between them with every turn of his spoked wheels. Chiappucci earned a symbolic victory by holding on to a five-second lead and the yellow jersey for another day, but LeMond had the real victory.

He would fret for the next four days, worrying about what could go wrong as he stayed with the Italian in each race, waiting for the important time trials at Lac de Vassivière on the day before the finish in Paris. LeMond knew what should happen. He should beat Chiappucci in the time trial easily. Form. He would overcome a flat tire—and the resulting twisted back—suffered near Lourdes. He would go to bed at 11 and awaken each morning at four, worrying even more. He still would win. It was inevitable.

Last Saturday, starting in inverse order of the standings, LeMond was the next-to-last rider on the 46-kilometer circuit. Chiappucci was the last. By the time he was midway around the course, LeMond knew he had a 45-second lead. When Chiappucci finished two minutes and 21 seconds behind, LeMond knew he was the winner of the Tour de France. The final leg of the Tour, into Paris on Sunday, would be a parade. He would be wearing the yellow jersey. For the first time in the race.

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