Panache

by Lorenzo Piccoli


This is a post I wrote exactly one year ago from now. I am not sure why I did not publish it then. It clearly inspired me to take up some more serious cycling in the following months. I will share it now that my bike is getting rusty again. Perhaps it will wake my spirit up to some new competitions.

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In December I bought a card game that features thirty of the greatest cyclists of all time and gives them somehow objectionable ratings on different aspects of their character. Before returning home for Christmas I started playing the game with Dani and the question arose: what, exactly, is panache? We looked it up and found that it means elegance, courage, style, verve. I liked the adjective and started throwing it into random conversations, often as a joke.

Part II: Lance Armstrong – again

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time will know that there is one recurring topic here. And yes, here we go again: during the Christmas vacation I spent time watching a few more documentaries on my old obsession. Not only that: I watched interviews and short clips about some of the other characters of this epic – meant in the literal, ancient Greek sense of the word – tale. There is the simple man who fell from grace; the lesser man who betrayed, threatened, and begged; and there are a few wise men, who seem to be able to reckon what is right and what is wrong. There are many other fascinating characters – the evil doctor, the famous girlfriend, the evasive team director to mention just a few – but I am not going to talk about them now. This period of my life I have been fascinated by one wise man who appears in Lance Armstrong’s story. Until a month ago I did not know him well – at all. And the more I learnt, the more I liked this man. This is what I know now about him. His name is Greg LeMond.

Part III: Greg LeMond
(large parts of this section are taken from a variety of pages online, including wikipedia)

Greg LeMond was born in Lakewood and raised in Washoe Valley, which is a ranch country on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. LeMond was a standout amateur rider. He turned professional in 1981 and in 1983 he won the World Championship outright, becoming the first American rider to do so. LeMond rode his first Tour de France in 1984, finishing third in support of team leader Laurent Fignon.

The following year he was brought across to La Vie Claire to ride in support of team captain Bernard Hinault who was attempting to win his fifth Tour. In the race Hinault led through the early mountain stages, but suffered a crash and came into difficulty. At this point it was clear that LeMond was an elite rider capable of winning the Tour in his own right. The injured Hinault was vulnerable, and his competitors knew it. At stage 17, which included three major climbs in the Pyrenees, LeMond followed Stephen Roche in an attack, but was not given permission to help build on the gap over the field. The managers of his La Vie Claire team ordered LeMond to sit on his wheel, a tactic to use the rider in front as cover for wind resistance so the following rider uses less energy. At the end of the stage LeMond was frustrated to the point of tears. He later revealed that team management and his own coach Paul Köchli had misled him as to how far back Hinault had dropped during the stage.. Hinault won the 1985 Tour, with LeMond riding as a dutiful lieutenant finishing second, 1:42 behind. As a repayment for his sacrifice Hinault promised to help LeMond win the Tour the following year.

However, Hinault’s support seemed less certain the closer the race approached. LeMond had bad luck during the fist stages, having suffered punctured tires and bicycle changes and slipped to the second stage behind Hinault. By the end of Stage 12, Hinault had a five-minute lead over LeMond and the other top riders. By Stage 17 LeMond has managed to fill the gap, dropping Hinault in four consecutive stages and pulling on the yellow jersey of race leader. The following day in the Alps saw Hinault attack again early on the first climb, but he was pulled back. Attempting an escape on the descent, he was unable to separate himself from LeMond. As they ascended up the next col they continued to pull away from the field, and maintained the gap as they reached the base of the final climb, the vaunted Alpe d’Huez. They pressed on through the crowd, ascending the twenty-one switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez and reaching the summit together. LeMond put an arm around Hinault and gave him a smile and the stage win in a show of unity.

But the infighting was not over. Hinault attacked again on Stage 19 and had to be brought back by teammates Andy Hampsten and Steve Bauer. Commenting on the team situation prior to the final individual time trial at Stage 20, LeMond offered the following with a wry smile: “He’s attacked me from the beginning of the Tour De France. He’s never helped me once, and I don’t feel confident at all with him.” LeMond would keep the yellow jersey to the end of the race and win his first Tour, but he felt betrayed by Hinault and the La Vie Claire team leadership. LeMond later stated the 1986 Tour was the most difficult and stressful race of his career.

LeMond had planned to defend his title in the 1987 Tour de France with La Vie Claire, but he was unable to participate because he was shot during a session of turkey hunting. The facts went as follows. LeMond was resting before the Tour in a ranch co owned by his father in Lincoln, California, together with Rodney Barber and Patrick Blades, his uncle and brother-in-law. The trio had become separated when Blades, who heard movement behind him, turned and fired through a bush. The movement had come from LeMond, who was hit in his back and right side with a devastating blast of approximately 60 No. 2-sized pellets. LeMond’s injuries were life-threatening, but fortunately, a police helicopter was already airborne near the scene and transported LeMond on a 15-minute air medical flight to the Medical Center at University of California-Davis. LeMond was taken for emergency surgery. He had suffered a pneumothorax to his right lung and extensive bleeding, having lost some 65 percent of his blood volume. A physician informed LeMond later that he had been within 20 minutes of bleeding to death. The events effectively ended his 1987 and 1988 seasons.

After struggling in the 1989 Paris–Nice early-season race and failing to improve his condition, LeMond informed his wife Kathy that he intended to retire from professional cycling after the 1989 Tour de France. He had some flashes of form in the Giro d’Italia’s final 53 km (33 mi) individual time trial into Florence. LeMond placed a surpising second there, more than a minute ahead of overall winner Laurent Fignon. However, at the start of the Tour de France LeMond was not considered a contender for the general classification. His own most optimistic hope was to finish his final Tour in the top 20. Without the weight of expectation and other pressures of being a Tour favorite, LeMond surprised observers with a strong ride in the 7.8 km (4.8 mi) prologue in Luxembourg, finishing fourth out of 198 riders. Buoyed by the result, LeMond continued to ride well over the opening flat stages, winning the 73 km (45 mi) stage 5 individual time trial, and gaining the yellow jersey of race leader for the first time in three years.  LeMond remained at the front of the race in the Pyrénées, but lost the lead to his former teammate and rival Laurent Fignon on stage 10 in Superbagnères. After a fierce fight on the mountains, with the yellow jersey quickly passing from one to the other, Fignon held a 50-second advantage over LeMond going into the 21st and final stage, a rare 24.5 km (15.2 mi) individual time trial from Versailles to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Fignon had won the Tour twice before, in 1983 and 1984, and was a very capable time trialist. It seemed improbable that LeMond could take 50 seconds off Fignon over the short course. Le Monde rode the time trial with a rear disc wheel, a cut-down Giro aero helmet and the same Scott clip-on aero bars which had helped him to the Stage 5 time trial win. Instructing his support car not to give him his split times, LeMond rode flat-out and finished at a record pace to beat Fignon by 8 seconds and claim his second Tour de France victory. The final margin of victory of eight seconds was the closest in the Tour’s history.

LeMond’s return to the pinnacle of cycling was confirmed on August 27, when he won the 259 km (161 mi) World Championships road race in Chambéry, France, defeating Fignon again and edging Dimitri Konyshev and Sean Kelly on the line. The next year Le Mond won the Tour de France again, though in a less spectacular fashion than 1989. But then his conditions deteriorated. LeMond acknowledged that the increasing prevalence of doping contributed to his lack of competitiveness. Said LeMond: “Something had changed in cycling. The speeds were faster and riders that I had easily out performed were now dropping me”. Nonetheless, LeMond said there was something more, related to his body not functioning as it would have before. “I figure I had three months that went right for me after the hunting accident,” three months in which he won the two Tours and a world road race championship. “The rest were just pure suffering, struggling, fatigue, always tired.”

After retiring from cycling, LeMond founded LeMond Bicycles, invested in real estate, and opened a restaurant. He received intense criticism in 2001 when he publicly expressed doubts about the legitimacy of Lance Armstrong’s Tour success after learning of his relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari. His outspokenness placed him in the center of the anti-doping controversy. Trek, the longtime manufacturer and distributor of LeMond Racing Cycles, had threatened to end the relationship at the behest of Armstrong. He described the two years following the forced apology as the worst in his life, marked by self-destructive behavior that ultimately led him to disclose his sexual abuse to his wife and seek help.

In 2007 Floyd Landis called him in August to ask why the former Tour champ had been so publicly vocal in the days after it was reported that Landis’s A sample from stage 17 of the Tour had tested positive for synthetic testosterone. LeMond made numerous TV appearances in the aftermath, and spoke in general terms about why he thought Landis should come clean if he had in fact doped at the 2006 Tour de France. “At first, I didn’t believe it was him,” said LeMond during direct questioning from USADA attorney Matt Barnett. “I was shocked he was calling me only because I thought it was a prank phone call. I confirmed it was really him and he asked why I would be making these public comments.” LeMond explained that he told Landis that if he did have a positive that it was a devastating thing for the sport. “I was very clear that I didn’t judge that he did or didn’t because the B sample wasn’t positive at the time,” LeMond continued, adding that he told Landis that he could “single handedly salvage the sport” by “[coming] clean.”Landis, according to LeMond, responded, “What good would it do?” then added that if he did “it would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people.” LeMond went on to reveal that he told Landis that keeping dark secrets can ruin one’s life, then relayed his own story of being sexually abused as a child, a story LeMond said he had shared with only a few people and never talked about publicly until Thursday. “I was sexually abused before I got into cycling it nearly destroyed me,” LeMond said, adding he told Landis that he should come clean because, “This will come back to haunt you when you are 40 or 50…this will destroy you.

The drama continued on the eve of LeMond’s testimony, when LeMond received a phone call from a mysterious caller, who identified himself only as “Uncle Ron.” LeMond said he was perplexed at first, but that changed to concern when the caller made direct references to the conversation about sexual abuse that he had with Landis last August.“He said ‘Hi Greg, this is your uncle. This is your uncle Ron and I’m going to be there tomorrow,’” LeMond recalled. “I said, ‘Who is this?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be there and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie.’ I got the picture right away that there are very few people who know about that. I figured this was intimidation.” The three-time Tour champ said the caller then hung up, and when LeMond redialed he got a voicemail message identifying the call recipient as “Will.” LeMond said he tried calling back three more times, finally getting an answer from someone who identified himself only as “Bill.” The conversation was inconclusive, so LeMond hung up and then called the police. A subsequent check of the number saved on LeMond’s mobile phone showed that it belonged to Landis’s business manager Will Geoghegan. Undeterred, LeMond took the stand and testified, before admitting to the world that he had been molested.

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