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Remembering The Greatest Comeback in Cycling History
The inspiring story of Greg LeMond's incredible comeback in modern sports history
Tour de France
March 2023
Common Affairs Cycling Black Logo

“Many will start fast, few will finish strong.” 

— Gary Ryan Blair

Many people consider the 1989 Tour de France not just the most competitive edition of the race…but also the greatest.

It was an epic comeback story for the ages as never before, and never since, had the world’s premier bike event been decided in its final moments.

Here’s the backstory…

Gregory James LeMond is a living legend in American cycling, though his brand is even more recognized and revered outside the States. He remains the only American to win the Tour de France, and he did that on three occasions. His story is one of the humble beginnings and overcoming adversity. First, he had to break through and prove himself in Europe, something no American cyclist had done before. He battled his teammate and five-time Tour winner Berdarnd Hinault, along with the French cycling establishment, to claim his first Tour victory. Then he was the tragic victim of a hunting accident that left him fighting for his life. But he fought back and won two more Tours in ‘89 and ‘90.

Greg LeMond at the ’89 Tour

Photo by Bicycling.com

LeMond (centre) with his main ’89 Tour rival, Laurent Fignon, to his front right.

Photo by Bicycling.com

The Tour de France is one of the toughest most gruelling races in the world. 138 racers take 21 days to cover over 2000 miles.

Going into the final leg on the final day…US cyclist Greg LeMond was 50 seconds behind the leader, Laurent Fignon. 50 seconds was considered by the experts to be an insurmountable lead.

The distance of the final leg, from Versailles to Paris at 24.5 kilometres was considered to be too short, the experts said; the course which was slightly downhill was too easy; and the time to makeup — 50 seconds — was just too great.

It was viewed by everyone as being absolutely impossible to overcome. Well, that is to everyone EXCEPT Greg LeMond.

It would have been easy for LeMond to give up, to listen to the voices of doubt, to surrender the idea of winning…and simply settle for second place.

Instead, LeMond, did just the opposite…he believed he could win, he took on the impossible challenge and he rode the race of his life…he chose to dig deep and FINISH STRONG!

Fignon and LeMond going head to head during the ’89 Tour de France

Photo by VeloNews

LeMond on the podium after his overall win at the ’89 Tour de France. Fignon left, finished second while Pedro Delgado, centre-right, took third.

Photo by Bicycling.com

LeMond not only overcame the 50-second difference…he went on to win the Tour de France with an 8-second lead.

BY CHOOSING TO FINISH STRONG…he silenced his critics and rewrote his own legend with a heroic comeback and a magnificent finish.

While he danced in victory on the Champs-Elysees…his defeated competitor sat and wept.

The sporting comeback of the century to win the 1989 Tour de France after a near-fatal hunting accident

Photo by Forbes

The original article was written and published by Gary Ryan Blair of Medium.

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