LeMond, Greg(ory) James

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LeMOND, Greg(ory) James

(b. 26 June 1961 in Lakewood, California), professional cyclist who stands as the first cyclist from the United States to win the Tour de France and the World Road Race Championship.

Greg LeMond is one of three children of Robert LeMond, a real-estate broker, and Bertha LeMond. In December 1968 the LeMond family moved from Lakewood to Lake Tahoe, California. It was there, at the age of seven, that LeMond discovered snow skiing. His interest in skiing got more serious when the LeMonds moved two years later to Washoe County in northwestern Nevada, where LeMond's father intended to start a real-estate business.

LeMond's passion for skiing continued to develop over the next few years, and his involvement with cycling began mainly as training for the rigors of freestyle ski competitions. However, the 1975 Nevada state cycling championship happened to take place on the road that ran past the LeMond home, and Greg was intrigued by what he saw. LeMond began to devote more and more of himself to cycling, and skiing soon fell by the wayside.

With commitment to cycling came immediate success, as LeMond won his first four races, competing in the twelve-to-fifteen-year-old category. His competitive fires ignited, LeMond soon found himself wanting more competition. Permission was granted for LeMond to race with the juniors.

In 1977, only fifteen and not officially old enough to race as a junior, LeMond went to the U.S. Junior World Cycling team trials and won two out of three races. His age, however, kept him from being selected for the world championship team. Later that year he won the national Junior Road Race Championship, and the following year, 1978, saw LeMond finish ninth in the World Junior Road Race Championship. Busy making his mark in the cycling world, LeMond earned his high school diploma by taking correspondence courses.

A significant milestone in LeMond's career was the 1979 world championship meet held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Competing in both road and track events, LeMond won the gold medal in the road race, silver in the individual pursuit, and bronze in the team time trial. LeMond was the first rider of any age to win three medals in one world meet.

His ever-increasing success bolstered by his status as reigning junior world champion, LeMond looked next to the 1980 Olympics. Although Olympic gold would seem to be the next logical step for the budding young champion, it was not to be, as the United States boycotted the Summer Games in Moscow in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. With the possibility of Olympic competition removed, LeMond had to decide whether to continue competing as an amateur and wait for the 1984 Olympics, or to turn professional at the tender age of nineteen. For LeMond, the decision was plain; he had learned the ropes of amateur cycling and was ready for greater competition.

After winning the Circuit de la Sarthe, a grueling, 346-mile pro-am race in France, LeMond was paid a visit by Cyrille Guimard, a French cycling coach known for his ability to identify and develop champions. Guimard offered the cyclist a professional contract with the Renault team, captained by the great Bernard Hinault, for the 1981 season. LeMond, believing this to be the best choice for his development as a cyclist, signed on with Guimard. He then capped the year by marrying Kathy Morris on 21 December 1980. The couple has three children. LeMond characterized his first year as a professional as "not an easy one." In typical fashion, though, LeMond began winning races and made his mark on the European circuit with a third-place finish in the Dauphiné Libéré, a weeklong stage race held on some of the same roads as the Tour de France. This performance showed that LeMond had the ability to win the top European stage races. Returning to the United States, LeMond won the Coors Classic, a victory made particularly sweet in that he defeated the Olympic champion, Sergei Soukhorouchenkov, whom he would have had to beat in Moscow for the Olympic gold medal.

The 1982 season saw LeMond return to Europe with greater confidence than ever, and he won the twelve-day Tour de l'Avenir by a record-setting margin of ten minutes. At the World Road Race Championship of that year held in Goodwood, England, he placed second.

In May of 1983, LeMond's third professional season, he took first place in the Dauphiné Libéré stage race, and then followed with a fourth-place finish in the Tour of Switzerland. His greatest victory to date came, however, at the 1983 World Road Race Championship, becoming the first cyclist from the United States to win this race. In recognition of his 1983 accomplishments, LeMond was awarded the Super Prestige Pernod Trophy, marking him as the best cyclist of the year.

In 1984, LeMond's fourth year as a professional cyclist, he made his debut in the world's most prestigious and difficult race, the Tour de France. Although he got off to a shaky start in the 23-day, 2,500-mile race, he finished third, becoming the first non-European to mount the winner's podium.

Bernard Hinault, LeMond's teammate of 1983, had spent the 1984 season racing for a new team, the French-based La Vie Claire. As the 1985 season approached, Hinault asked LeMond if he would join La Vie Claire and ride as cocaptain. LeMond accepted the offer, and in the Tour de France of that year put his personal ambitions aside and helped Hinault to win his fifth Tour while LeMond took second place. The 1986 edition of the Tour de France began with the expectation that LeMond would be the favorite to win, seconded by Hinault, the defending champion. It soon became clear that this was not entirely the case. Rather than working with LeMond, Hinault "attacked" his teammate again and again. It was only through immense force of will in the face of an apparent betrayal and a partisan French crowd that LeMond took the overall victory.

Coming into the 1987 season in preparation for his Tour de France title defense, LeMond was sidelined by a broken wrist received in a racing crash. Towards the end of his rehabilitation period on 20 April, LeMond was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law while turkey hunting outside Sacramento, California. Recovery was slow and painful, and his return to the race circuit was interrupted, first by an emergency appendectomy, and then by an infection in his shin, which eventually required surgery.

Having missed the 1987 and 1988 Tours de France, LeMond arrived in 1989 given little chance of returning to his former glory. Riding now for the Belgium-based ADR team, LeMond was not surrounded by the strong teammates he had worked with at La Vie Claire. Nonetheless, LeMond rode strongly and was in the yellow jersey of the leader by the end of the first week. The following two weeks bore witness to an epic duel between LeMond and two-time Tour winner Laurent Fignon, who had been LeMond's teammate at Renault.

LeMond trailed Fignon by fifty seconds coming into the final day of the tour. On that day LeMond rode the stage at an average speed of thirty-four miles per hour, the fastest ever for a time trial in the Tour de France. LeMond won the 1989 Tour de France by a margin of eight seconds, the closest in the history of the race. His seemingly miraculous comeback from the near-fatal shooting was completed just weeks later when he won his second World Road Race Championship at Chambéry, France, making him one of only five men to win the Tour de France and the World Road Race Championship in the same year. The close of the year found LeMond's photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated, as he was named Sportsman of the Year.

His comeback complete, LeMond signed a multi-million-dollar contract with the French-based Z team. Riding with the backing of a strong team, LeMond successfully defended his Tour de France title in 1990, firmly cementing his name among those of cycling's all-time greats with his third Tour victory.

Although LeMond received many endorsement deals and rode under lucrative racing contracts, the years following his 1990 Tour de France victory did not see him meeting with continued great success on the cycling front. Beset with health problems and faced with new, younger competition, LeMond struggled in subsequent Tours de France, finishing seventh in 1991, and his final major victory came in the 1992 Tour DuPont, a stage race in the United States. As 1994 came to a close, it was revealed that LeMond was suffering from mitochondrial myopathy, an impairment of muscle proteins that prevents the intense power delivery needed by a world-class cyclist. The disease signaled the end of LeMond's career as a professional cyclist.

No longer a competitor, LeMond continued to be deeply involved in the cycling world through the founding of a successful bicycle company that bore his name, as well as through significant relationships with other companies in the cycling industry. After giving up bicycle racing, LeMond turned to racing automobiles.

LeMond's significance in the world of cycling is immense. He was the first cyclist to wear a hard-shell helmet while competing in the Tour de France. His record of three Tour de France titles and two World Road Race Championships places him among the legends of cycling. LeMond will forever stand as the pioneer U.S. cyclist, the one who opened doors in what previously had been a sport only of European champions and who paved the way for future generations of U.S. cyclists to test themselves at the sport's highest level.

Greg LeMond's Complete Book of Bicycling (1987), which LeMond cowrote with Kent Gordis, offers insight into his life and development as a cyclist in addition to practical information on the sport. Cycling journalist Samuel Abt has written two works on LeMond, LeMond: The Incredible Comeback of an American Hero (1990), and A Season in Turmoil (1995). Lively accounts of LeMond's exploits in the Tour de France and World Road Race Championships can be found in Bicycle Racing in the Modern Era (1997), edited by the staff of VeloNews, and John Wilcockson's World of Cycling (1998), by John Wilcockson.

Christopher T. Gozick