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Former Tour de France winner loses fight against cancer
(12 August 1960 – 31 August 2010)
A tear in my eye for the man I’ve never met
This morning I was shocked to hear that Laurent Fignon passed away. A tear came to my eye for the man I have never met.
I knew about his cycling “palmares” a lot, at home I have a tape from the Giro and Tour de France that he won which I watched many times. I admired his attacking style of racing. His ponytale was a trade mark. He was turning pedals with such an ease. He was just way too young to go, still he is not here any more. Suddenly it appears that I have too many “in memory of” blogs on my site.
Laurent Fignon stood out in the peloton during his 12-year career because of his distinctive round glasses, long ponytail and impulsive character.
He was nick-named “the professor” but was one of the classiest riders in the sport and one of the true greats of French cycling. He raced with panache, often throwing caution to the wind and making surprise, audacious attacks. However he had the ability to back up his aggression and won both Grand Tours and major classics.
Former Tour de France winner loses fight against cancer
Laurent Fignon has passed away after losing his fight against cancer, French television has announced.
The Frenchman twice won the Tour de France during his career. He was 50.
Fignon disclosed in June 2009 that he was undergoing treatment for cancer. It is said to have started in his intestine and then spread further through his body. He continued to commentate for French television on the Tour de France this summer despite a tumour affecting his vocal chords.
“I don’t want to die at 50,” he said, earlier this summer. “All I know is that my cancer isn’t evolving. I’m still fighting.”
Fignon won the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984, and a total of nine Tour stages. He also won the 1989 Giro d’Italia. He famously finished second in the Tour in 1989, famously losing to American Greg Lemond in 1989 by the slimmest margin ever in Tour history, a mere eight seconds.
Fignon was diagnosed with cancer in May 2009, and he revealed his illness it shortly thereafter. He had been very open with the press and public about his illness. In his book, “Nous étions jeunes et insouciants” (We were young and carefree), he confessed to having doped during his career. Later, he discussed the possibility that his cancer was linked to his doping.
We Were Young and Carefree
In 1989, Fignon lost to LeMond by eight seconds. The two dogged each other for weeks, the leader’s yellow jersey passing back and forth. Finally, with only the last-day time trial left, Fignon had a 50-second lead that appeared decisive.
But LeMond, riding with an aerodynamic helmet and new triathlon handlebars that Fignon maintained were illegal, set a blistering pace. It was the fastest full-length time-trial stage ever ridden at the time.
Fignon rode last, using traditional handlebars and with his ponytail blowing in the wind. He gave everything he had, collapsing to the ground after finishing. But it was not enough. LeMond took the Tour by the smallest margin of victory.
“The cyclist who doesn’t know how to lose cannot become a champion. … But to lose like that, on the last day, with such a small gap, and principally because of handlebars that were banned under the rules, no, that was too much for one man,” Fignon said in his autobiography, “We Were Young and Carefree,” published last year.
LeMond remembers Fignon
American recalls 1989 Tour de France rivalry.
Greg LeMond said he was shocked to hear of Laurent Fignon’s death, admitting he felt sorry for his Tour de France win in 1989, when LeMond snatched victory from Fignon in the final time trial to Paris.
Speaking on French news channel France 24, LeMond said: “It’s a really sad day. I see him as one of the great riders who was hampered by injuries. He had a very, very big talent, much more than anyone recognised. For me he was one of the greater champions that was not recognised. He was more recognised for his loss in the Tour de France than for his two victories.”
“We were teammates, competitors, but also friends. He was a great person, one of the few that I find was really true to himself. He didn’t have an ego. He really knew himself.”
“When he lost the Tour de France in 1989 it was one of the few victories where I felt we both won. The saddest thing for me is that for the rest of his career he said he won two Tours de France, when in reality we both could have won the race.”
He was one of the few riders who I really admired for his honesty and his frankness. We talked about a lot of different things outside of cycling and I was fortunate to really get to know him when my career stopped. I believe he was also one of the generation that was cut short in the early nineties because he was not able to fulfil the rest of his career. But he was a great rider.”
Fignon won the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984. LeMond was a young but talented teammate at the Renault-Elf-Gitane team in 1984 and finished third overall in the Tour. They went their separate ways in 1985, with Lemond joining forces with Bernard Hinault at La Vie Claire.
When LeMond recovered from a gunshot wound and returned to the Tour in 1989, Fignon emerged as his biggest rival in what would develop into arguably the best ever duel in Tour de France history. Fignon had won the Giro d’Italia in May and gained time on LeMond in the mountains but the American reduced his losses in the time trials.
Fignon started the final 25km time trial with a 50 second advantage and many considered it enough to win the Tour. However LeMond was one of the first riders to use aerobars and refused to give up, while Fignon was suffering with saddle sores and was very nervous.
Fignon finished third in the time trial but lost 58 seconds to LeMond and lost the yellow jersey. As LeMond celebrated, Fignon fell to the ground after he crossed the line, knowing he had lost the Tour by just a few seconds.
The eight second time difference is still the smallest ever winning margin in the history of the Tour de France.
“In 1989, when I was on the podium (at the Tour de France), I felt bad for him,” LeMond told France24, remembering Fignon’s defeat on that fateful day 21 years ago.
Robert Millar remembers Laurent Fignon
Scot recalls special moments from the 1983 and 1984 Tour de France
Robert Millar and Laurent Fignon both made their Tour de France debut in 1983. And at the time both were perhaps ‘young and carefree’ as Fignon would go on to title his autobiography.
Fignon went on to win the 1983 Tour, while Millar won a mountain stage and was fourteenth overall. In 1984 Fignon won the Tour again and Millar finished fourth overall and won the polka-dot climber’s jersey.
Both were unique individuals but became close because of their idiosyncrasies, while still being fierce rivals on the road.
Here Millar remembers Fignon, who died yesterday from cancer, confirming the Frenchman’s talent and character with revealing anecdotes from the 1983 and 1984 editions of the Tour de France.
“I was lucky that I had the chance to race with Laurent Fignon for most of my career but I was even luckier that sometimes he used to talk to me during the quiet moments in races, the times when you could linger at the back of the peloton and reflect on things.”
“I liked him as a person. Sure I liked how he raced and how he always fought but primarily I liked Laurent the man. He was intense, passionate and demanding when he competed but he was also respectful and fair to his rivals and teammates. And when the race was over it was over so you didn’t have to talk about it forever and a day.”
“Others called him difficult and moody but I liked that aspect of his character and I liked that he didn’t tolerate fools and shoddy media people either. I liked the fact that he used to hide behind the Credit Lyonnais stand in the Tour village so he could grab five minutes of peace and quiet to read his newspaper without interruptions. Or that if I sneaked off for a real espresso in a small cafe just before the start of an Italian race, I would more often than not find him and a few teammates having a laugh in the corner of the same cafe.”
“I was shocked when he announced he was ill and I resented that he was suffering so much until he passed away. After giving so much of himself he deserved better. He was intelligent, humorous, and truly special as an athlete and a person. He’ll be missed.”
Tour de France memories
“A couple of examples of how gifted Fignon really was come to mind as I remember when we raced together.”
“We’re at the 1983 Tour de France and it’s the morning of the 50km Dijon time trial, the day before the final stage to Paris. I’m out riding the route to see what it’s like, the usual stuff of assessing gearing, wind direction and road surfaces. About forty kilometres into the route and nicely warmed up, we are riding hard to get an idea of how the legs feel spinning a big gear, when Fignon suddenly comes past going considerably faster.”
“We think ‘Ok, showing off are we?’, ‘trying to psyche us out?’ And so we give chase. What a bad idea. I can’t remember who I was with but there were three of us going through and off and yet he just disappeared into the distance very quickly. We were totally demoralised when we finally catch him up at the finish area and see he is hardly sweating. We knew who the winner would be that afternoon. Sure enough Fignon wins the time trial and the Tour. The next day I catch up with him and offer my congratulations. We briefly talk about the time trial and he admits in total sincerity that he only changed gear a couple of times during the whole thing. He said he went down from top gear for the harder bits because he felt he ought to, not because he needed to.”
“Another great memory I have is from the year after, 1984, during stage 20 of the Tour de France from Morzine to Crans Montana. It’s boiling hot. As we hit the bottom of the final climb to the finish, Pascal Jules from Fignon’s team is in front with about a minute lead. There are a few attacks but then Fignon hits the front to calm things down, probably thinking that if he controls the pace then no-one will dare come past.”
“He’s not wrong as he’s going so fast the talking has stopped in the bunch. After a couple of kilometres I somehow find myself in second position right behind him and start thinking and feeling that the pace he is setting is way too much for my liking. As it becomes more and more uncomfortable to maintain some kind of composure I think to myself that it might be better to slip back a bit and get more shelter amongst the wheels of the group, maybe recover a bit because I know it gets steeper later on. If Fignon had been going slower I might have been able to look round and see there was no group to hide in. We were lined out in the gutter so much that when I pulled over to recover a bit no-one came past. And with that Fignon rode off to catch his friend and win the stage.”
I was waiting for one of the other riders to complain that I had let the wheel go but strangely no-one mentioned it. Everyone knew just how strong Fignon was and knew they would not have been able to hold his wheel either.”
Laurent Fignon, we’ll miss you, RIP.