"Before I got into cycling, I never did anything competitively. Cycling kind of started a spark in my brain."
The dreams of 18 year old Greg LeMond were big and they were bright with youthful zeal. He was setting for himself a no-holds barred list of goals many people probably thought were inconceivable as he was still yet so young and relatively inexperienced. But you only have to observe Greg LeMond's performance in the cycling world to see that he has always been a true phenomena, someone who didn't hesitate to break the molds and push himself to surpass people's expectations. So looking back on the young dreamer’s list, perhaps these goals weren't quite so impossible after all.
The Juniors road race in 1979 was a tense and exciting first test of the 18 year old's dedication to his goals. Greg LeMond and fellow cyclist Kenny De Marteleire were locked in a combative pas de deux as they headed for the finish line alone after having outclassed the rest of their competition. As the two fought to gain ground on each other, Kenny made a desperate effort to sabotage his opponent by trying to push the young LeMond off the track. Not just once, but twice. Greg's superior handling skills saved him from crashing but the delays were effective in preventing him from catching up to Kenny. Fortunately these actions did not escape the race officials’ notice. They disqualified Kenny and declared Greg LeMond the winner. The first goal on Greg’s list was accomplished; he had won the Junior World Championship road race, and at the same time, had become the first U.S. cyclist to get the gold medal in this event.
Greg LeMond’s second goal of winning the Olympic race did not come to fruition due to the U.S boycott of the 1980 summer Olympic Games. Greg was on the Olympic team that was to compete that year but they did not get a chance to race. He didn’t come out entirely empty handed however as his cycling team was invited to the White House in Washington, D.C. and he had the great pleasure of meeting President Jimmy Carter.
The year of 1983 was witness to a classic and unhindered win for Greg LeMond at the Pro World Championship road race held in Berne, Switzerland. Greg had stayed close to the front of the pack for the first 15 laps and in the 16th he stepped it up, breaking away from everyone. Two riders, Italian Moreno Argentin and Spaniard Faustino Ruperez attempted to keep up with LeMond but found it impossible. Greg powered ahead, leaving the two behind and continued on alone to claim triumphant victory at the finish line, another first in cycling history as an American had never won this event before now. Now with this third goal completed, he turned his eyes towards the Tour de France, the last goal on his list and possibly the hardest to reach.
"Greg LeMond has all the physical qualities needed to win the Tour. But he doesn't have the mind-set of a winner." These were the words of Greg's former teammate Laurent Fignon as the 1986 Tour de France began. And they are to be famous last words. Greg indeed was in top shape as he rode and it particularly showed on the final ascent of 3,500 feet during one of the Tour’s toughest days and routes. But never doubt that he was also just as mentally prepared to do whatever it took to win. Without hesitation he took advantage his teammate Andy Hampsten's help during this stage. As Andy pulled ahead in an aggressive move for his team, Greg was close on his heels using his teammate as a shield for needed respite from the wind. This led to Greg’s first stage win in the Tour de France and over the next few stages of the race Greg's momentum only grew as he continued to perform brilliantly. In short, Greg LeMond made history as he became the first American to win the Tour de France.
The list of goals that an 18 year old boy had written over 8 years ago had now been realized, showing that Greg LeMond was one of the most driven cyclists ever.
Greg LeMond's undeniable appetite for speed is an ingrained habit, starting when he was only 7 years old and already racing down the mountains by his home in Lake Tahoe. But interestingly enough, his first forays into fast sports wasn't on a bicycle but rather on a pair of freestyle skis. His father Bob LeMond, an avid athlete himself, greatly encouraged his talented son and by the time Greg was 9 years old he was already quite a skilled skier. Soon after he was enrolled at Wayne Wong's freestyle ski camp located in Vancouver, Canada. Wong recommended that Greg cycle in the off-season as a way to maintain and improve his skiing and it was with reluctance that Greg agreed. Knowing as we do Greg LeMond's destiny in this particular sport, it is ironic that in the beginning he actually considered bicycling to be quite boring and only put up with it for the sake of skiing.
Greg and his father began cycling together and were soon covering 20 miles a day, a fairly high level for a 14 year old. That same summer in 1975 they observed a bicycle race into the mountains of Nevada (the LeMond family had moved to Washoe Valley, Nevada a few years earlier), a race which included John Howard and George Mount, both of whom were United States Cycling Team riders. Greg was greatly inspired by this first encounter and the sheer physical exertion displayed. It was here that his love affair with this sport began, quickly eclipsing his budding skiing career as he turned his attention to cycling instead. "The fitness required is what really attracted me to cycling". Greg was hooked. He voraciously read up on cycling and entered his first race in 1976 at age 15. He placed 2nd despite shoddy equipment and his sheer talent was plain to see.
Greg began training in earnest, working harder and growing stronger, spending hours on his bike each day increasing his endurance. It was a labor of love and it paid off. Greg’s name began to spread among the media, gaining fans and admirers as his victories mounted. In January of 1977 the Sierra Nevada Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association (SNSBA) named him "Prep of the Year". A great honor for the young man. Later on that year in the Tour of San Joaquin, Greg's growing skills were put to the test as he was accidentally placed with the Seniors (ages 19 to 34) due to an administrative error. He would now be racing with the fastest cyclists in the event, including John Howard, a man whom Greg had seen race before and much admired. In this race, Greg, who the fans were calling the ‘Phenom from Nevada", ended up beating everybody except John Howard. During this time Greg LeMond was also spotted by Eddie Borysewicz who was the new coach of the U.S. Cycling Federation. He became Greg’s first real coach and nurtured his talent, entering him in Swiss and Belgian races the following year.
Greg was set to race in the Junior World Championship Road Race in Argentina but at the last minute, he was also entered into the 3000 meter pursuit. This difficult race was performed in a velodrome and as it was late notice, Greg was only able to practice for half an hour on the track the morning of the race, getting quick tips from Jim Grill the U.S. track coach. Greg still managed to set a U.S. record and won the silver medal. Greg's main event, the 120 kilometer Road Race, had some unexpected twists and turns as well. He performed well quickly outpacing the other competitors except for a cyclist by the name of Kenny De Marteleire. It was here that the two had their tension filled face-off ending in De Marteleire being disqualified for his attempts at trying to run Greg off the road. Greg LeMond won the gold and became the first U.S. rider to take first place in the Junior World Championship Road Race. He was just 18 years old.
With the US boycott of the 1980 Olympics Greg wanted to turn pro right away but Greg’s coach Borysewicz didn’t think it was a good idea for Greg to turn pro so quickly as this meant racing in Europe where they had the best riders and the toughest tracks. However Greg felt that he was ready and traveled to France where he won the Circuite de la Sarthe (one of the few races open to both professionals and amateurs). This really gained the attention of French cycling coach Cyrille Guimard who had been following his career for about a year prior. "You have the fire to be a great champion" Guimard said to Greg. In July of 1980 Greg went ahead and signed his first professional contract with the Renault-Elf-Gitane team.
Upon turning pro Greg moved to Europe with his new wife Kathy Morris. It was an exciting time but it was also undeniably a period of stress and adjustment. The weather was dismal and neither Greg nor Kathy spoke French (they had settled in Nantes, France). His first race the Etoile de Besseges was a disastrous combination of unpreparedness and exhaustion. It was time to get back into intensive training—which he did with the solid support of his wife. By the 1983 Pro World Championship, he was back in top shape, training up to 100 miles a day, watching his diet and winning major races in Europe under the tutelage of his coach Cyrille Guimard. His gaze was firmly locked on the prizes of taking the Pro World Championship (and of course the Tour de France).
This was to be a good year for Greg LeMond but by no means easy. Despite being in fantastic shape, Guimard still didn’t think Greg was yet ready for the killing pace of the Tour de France. More training and more experience racing in Europe were needed. At this time Greg and his wife Kathy were living in Kortrijk, Belgium. He left for Spain to race in the Vuelta d’Espana and where he hoped to get in some cycling but the cold and rainy weather was preventing him from doing so. His spirits were further dampened when his coach Guimard told him to quit the race and get some rest back at home in Kortrijk. For a while Greg's usually indomitable will was strained and he even considered quitting cycling all together.
Greg quickly realized that he needed to stop worrying about things beyond his control and snapped out of his funk. This didn’t come too soon as Greg was about to compete in the Dauphine Libere stage race. He placed second but then in a strange twist of events, the first place winner Pascal Simon was disqualified for using a banned chemical, meaning that Greg actually had won first. It was a surprise outcome that further lifted Greg’s spirits. What had begun as a trying year was now turning out to be one filled with victories made more meaningful by the uphill battle to reach them.
The highlight of the year came when Greg won the Pro World Championship road race, being the first American to ever win it. The Pro World race had always been a goal of his and winning it was really quite a triumphant end to the 1983 season. There was further celebration when Greg was also chosen to receive the Super Prestige Pernod Trophy, an award assessed on points and given to the cyclist who has earned most points for the whole season. Greg was starting to leave his mark in Europe's cycling world and when he finally left for home back in the U.S. for some much needed rest, he went away as a man at the top of his game.
Greg LeMond joined the new La Vie Claire team with the understanding that he would be sharing leadership with Bernard Hinault, his teammate. This was an important factor in his difficult choice to leave the Renault team and his coach Guimard. Prior to this Greg had been what is called a domestique or a support rider. Greg had always wanted to lead instead of take a back seat and with Bernard's assurances of co-leading and also that he would be retiring in 1986 (effectively making Greg the leader), Greg was happy to accept.
Greg was faithful to his team and to Bernard Hinault, assisting him in wins and cycling in a certain way so as to aid the team leader. That was not to say that Greg didn't want to take the lead when it was his turn. In fact, in 1985, he and Bernard agreed that in the Tour, the stronger of the two would take the lead and win. Bernard even made the comment "LeMond or me, it doesn't matter, the important thing is for the team to win". Greg was primed in his heart and soul to take this opportunity to do his best and win.
Unfortunately for Greg, this particular chance would prove to be short-lived. The section being covered on the day was in the heart of the Pyrenees and during the climb to Luz Ardiden, LeMond took a lead on Bernard Hinault. When Greg continued to power forward on the ascent, the La Vie Claire car drove alongside him and team coach Paul Kochli told him to wait and aid Hinault who was in trouble on this section. Hinault was still first overall and Kochli didn’t want him to lose any more time. Greg did as his team requested and waited back, finishing only a minute ahead of Hinault on the section.
Greg LeMond made this sacrifice for Bernard Hinault who then won the 1985 Tour de France, only 1 minute and 42 seconds in front of Greg. Their team had won...but Greg was disappointed with the coach's decision to hold back in order to let his teammate win. "If Hinault was in my place he would not have waited, that's all I have to say...if I'd raced my own race I might have...won the Tour de France." Ultimately he felt that Hinault had led him false in the promises that he'd made regarding them being co-leaders and letting the stronger one win. Despite his disagreement with the choice though, Greg accepted it in the end.
The pair had been friends for a long time before this, with Bernard acting as somewhat of an older brother figure to Greg. Therefore the pair didn’t criticize each other through the controversy and afterward Greg graciously acknowledged that "I helped Hinault accomplish his goals this year, and he will help me accomplish mine next year." Hinault even stated to the press that "I will race one more year, and if I am in the Tour de France, I shall only compete to help one of my teammates win. It should be Greg LeMond. Next year, I will make Greg LeMond win." Perhaps it was his way of making things up to Greg for having to give the race to him this year. Certainly there was a bit of skepticism over whether or not Hinault would follow through on this promise.
Greg LeMond was racing for his team but this year, he was racing for himself as well. It didn't matter whether or not Bernard Hinault was going to keep his promise of the year prior and only enter the Tour de France to help him win as Greg had done for him. Greg LeMond was ready to win, both physically and mentally in the best shape of his life. The dreams that an 18 year old boy had spun for himself eight years ago were about to be fully realized.
In the first 11 days of the Tour Greg was eighth overall and his teammate and rival Hinault was third. But that didn't phase Greg and he said with calm assurance "He's not the Bernard Hinault of five years ago. I know in the last week of the race I'm going to be stronger than he is." It was an added impetus for the young man to push himself even harder. His words proved to be true on the Tour's toughest day, the 116-mile nightmarish run over four mountains. That day Hinault tried to completely take the lead on Greg and burst ahead, seemingly having forgotten his promise to Greg. But Hinault faded just as quickly as he started, unable to even continue or see his teammates go by as they passed. Ever gracious, Greg offered to help but Hinault told him to continue on without him.
It was on this same day of the Tour that rookie La Vie Claire rider, Andy Hampsten selflessly aided his teammate and helped Greg towards winning this difficult stage. When Andy broke away from the pack aggressively, Greg was close on his heels. As Greg had previously done for Andy to help him win the Tour of Switzerland years before, Andy was now riding slightly ahead of Greg to block him from the wind. Andy did this for two and a half miles up a 3,500 foot ascent and provided Greg with crucial respite from the unforgiving elements. This effort led to Greg’s first stage win in the Tour de France and gaining some minutes in overall time on Hinault.
The completion of the next stage brought Greg to the lead. He was now wearing the leader's yellow jersey. Then next day Greg rode side by side with Hinault and they finished the stage with hands together. Greg said "Everybody on the team should be my ally now. This is the hardest Tour de France in 40 years, and not do I have to defeat the pack, I have to race against my own team." By this time Hinault had no way of catching up and three days before the end he conceded. Greg had become the team leader and he beautifully lead his team to victory.
So as he had believed that he could do, Greg LeMond triumphed and became the first American to win the Tour de France.
Greg was in America because he’d just broken his wrist in the Italian stage race Tirreno-Adriatico. He was due back in Europe in a week but since there was still a little time left, he decided to go on a turkey hunting trip with his uncle Rodney Barber and brother-in-law Patrick Blades. There was nothing that could have hinted at the tragedy about to unfold as the trio eagerly drove 40 miles to their destination. Upon arrival they left their vehicle at a gate and walked across a field, coming to a wooded area where they separated to wait and hunt. It was here, during the early morning just before 8:00 a.m. that Blades mistook some movement from behind him for for prey and accidentally blasted Greg in the back with a shotgun.
It took Greg about 10 seconds to realize that it was him who had gotten shot, finally realizing it when he looked down and saw the blood coming out of his shattered finger. Greg’s uncle and brother-in-law immediately called for help. Greg recalls thinking that "Aw, shit, I'm gonna die. I'm too far out and there's nobody going to come." When the ambulance finally came they had to actually carry Greg because there was a fence that blocked the vehicle from reaching him. He was rushed to University of California Davis Medical Center where emergency action had to be taken without the comfort of any painkillers. His chest was slit and a tube was inserted to drain fluid from his collapsed lung. Greg later remarked that he "came right off the stretcher, about two feet off. It was pure pain".
The blast from the shotgun was so devastating that it had cracked a finger, broken two ribs, collapsed a lung and spread irremovable pellets throughout the small intestine, liver, diaphragm and heart lining. Not to mention losing about three quarters of his bloody supply before reaching the medical center. Greg LeMond’s life was saved that day by Dr. Sandra Beal and her team but Greg was left with serious injuries and an incomprehensible amount of work to do before even thinking of getting back on a bike. Crippling physical pain would be his constant companion on his road to recovery. How could he ever get back to his best? "...it was only pure, blind faith that kept me going through '88...Who knows? You just try your best."
Greg LeMond now walks around with over 30 shotgun pellets inside of him.
At the beginning of 1989 Greg was still just entering races to train and test his mettle against others. It had been a long and monumental climb to recovery. People had been saying for last two years that Greg LeMond was finished; in retrospect this just made him more determined than ever overcome this setback.
During the Giro d’Italia Greg had anemia (an iron deficiency in the blood) but despite this issue Greg came out second in the race. This unbelievable show of effort started Greg thinking that despite his injuries, he could still take on the best in the world, and the best would be found at the Tour de France. In 1989 Greg LeMond competed in the Tour de France and gave an exquisite performance. In the time trial LeMond annihilated fellow competitor Laurent Fignon (who was in second place) by 50 seconds—meaning that Greg had won the Tour de France by an overall time of 8 seconds. Greg’s victory was marked by memorable words from his wife Kathy as she shouted, "Eight seconds, Greg. You’ve got eight seconds less than Fignon!" which was the smallest margin of victory ever. "LeMonster" was back.
The following year at the 1990 Tour de France there was a great deal of true excitement, a trend that seems to follow Greg wherever he goes. At the 17th stage, around 800 meters from the summit of the Marie-Blanque pass in the Pyrenees, Greg’s rear tire flattened. It was then that Claudio Chiappucci, who was beating Greg by 5 seconds, decided to press his advantage. None of Greg’s teammates were around and the team car was nowhere to be seen, meaning Greg had to wait another minute before his tire could be changed. However, once it did get changed, Greg held nothing back in his pursuit of Chiappucci down the Marie-Blanque. One tour official who was watching said this of Greg, "I’ve never seen a descent that fast....LeMond never braked once. He took each curve at top speed. I thought he was crazy." It took 25 minutes for Greg to finally catch up to his competitor but catch up he did, displaying the type of aggression and pure skill that allowed Greg LeMond to win the Tour de France for a third time.
In classic Greg LeMond style, he had not only returned to the world of cycling after surviving an injury that might have felled a lesser athlete, but he had disproved all the doubters by winning the Tour de France two more incredible times.
Greg LeMond had a brilliant athletic career that spanned over two decades. He was the first American to win the Tour de France in 1986 (winning it twice more in 1989 and 1990 after overcoming a huge setback when he sustained serious gunshot injuries during a hunting accident), as well as the countless victories in many other important races. Something to note was that during his career, Greg also played an integral part in the success of Oakley sunglasses and Giro helmets, endorsing their brands as well as contributing to their product designs.
When Greg retired in 1994 after being diagnosed with mitochondria myopathy, he turned his considerable passion for fitness, health and philanthropy into pursuing new ventures. Nowadays Greg LeMond has transitioned his legendary determination and focus to his company and brands. Most notable are the famous LeMond racing bike line that was carried by Trek and his current indoor fitness bicycle company, LeMond Fitness. He has always been at the forefront of cycling innovations and under his leadership, LeMond Fitness is continuing Greg's belief in developing products that help individuals achieve their fitness goals and train more effectively. A big part of Greg’s post-cycling life is also in giving aid to charities for various causes close to his heart.
Greg LeMond has been many things in his life—a cycling phenomena, a successful businessman, fitness guru, and spokesperson—and he is still going on strong. Greg often travels to deal with his current business ventures but when he's not traveling, he resides happily with his wife Kathy and their three children in their Minnesota home.