The times they are a-changin' - A postcard from the 1989 Worlds

French reporter Yves Perret on his 'beautiful' hometown Worlds in Chambery

It was 1989. It was my hometown of Chambéry, in France. It was Sean Kelly, Greg LeMond, Laurent Fignon and the French national kit with the neat Adidas trim on the sleeves, and the crest on the left breast. It was a time when national jerseys were unceremoniously decked out with trade team shorts and Fignon would ride, chest puffed out, in the tricolore and his Système U shorts. They were my hometown Worlds, and they were beautiful.

I'm not nostalgic – I never have been – but the Road World Championships in Chambéry will forever live with me. At the age of 24, I was chosen to cover the event for the first time as a young reporter for the Dauphiné Libéré newspaper. To say I was enthusiastic would have been an understatement.

The entire experience was a buzz. In the build-up to the event, the local authorities had warned people to almost stay away because they were worried about the crowds. Signs were put up nearly 100 kilometres away from the course, but the locals in the know were aware that one of cycling's most popular events was on its way, and back then the fever from the Tour de France was still high because the Worlds took place just a few weeks after LeMond had won by eight seconds on the Champs-Elysées.

What made matters even more personal was the fact that the course, which was incredibly hard, rode right by my father's shop. He was a plumber and always supportive of my career as a writer. He and the rest of my family all turned out to watch by the roadside and there was a sense of expectancy from the French public. I really got a sense of this because I could see the excitement building as the days ticked by, while, at the same time, my friend at the time, Gilles Delion, who was even on the team, told me how difficult it was to be on the national squad.

I smile now, but I remember how Fignon had arrived before all his teammates and stayed in another hotel as he prepared for the championships. I found this out and eventually plucked up the courage to talk to him. This young reporter walked towards him in the hotel lobby, took in a deep breath, and said: "Laurent, may I ask you three questions?"

He stopped. Turned to me, gave me one look, and then just growled: "Non."

I turned away, and I remember thinking, "If this is how it's going to be, I'm not sure I'll have a long career in this game."

In the mornings, the small press corps would huddle together at the top of the climbs and watch the riders train. There would be the Russians in that intimidating red kit – the one with the CCCP initials – and there would be teams out training for the 100km team time trial with front and rear disc wheels, and the East German amateurs all in grey.

You have to remember that cycling events back then were far different to how they are now. There was no restricted access so 'going behind the scenes', as they say now, didn't really exist. Almost everything was behind the scenes, so at the top of the Montagnole, the main climb, I even managed to interview Canada's Steve Bauer during one of his training rides.

As for the French national team, they were made up of a number of factions. There were Guimard's boys on one side and the rest of the team on the other.

We had such incredible talent in that team but what I remember most is the rain and how stormy the conditions were during the men's race. The conditions were almost like a metaphor for what happened on the road when Fignon was one of the most aggressive riders in chasing down the final break that contained Dimitri Konyshev, Steven Rooks and his French teammate Thierry Claveyrolat, who rode for RMO.

In the end the race came back together on the final wet descent, and the leaders, soaked in their national kits, exploded with one final effort in the sprint. Of course, we all watched Kelly – he was probably the favourite to win – but it was LeMond, who had caught Fignon on the final climb, who eventually triumphed courtesy of his long, powerful sprint.

As for the home team, Fignon crossed the line with his shoulders sunk and in sixth place, while Claveyrolat came home in fifth. Neither featured in the sprint for the medals. It was a disappointment for the home fans, but, for me, it was an incredible experience. In the years since, I've covered many races, and many World Championships as a writer, but the Chambéry Worlds were my Worlds.

They were incredible times, and I was experiencing so much in my 20s. When I think about the years since, a lot has changed. My father retired many years ago, but his shop is still there, by the roadside, and from time to time I still travel on those roads, and think back to those times and that race as Fignon and the rest of the peloton raced by my father's shop window. So many of the details and memories have faded to just blurs of colour and snippets of sounds as the peloton would race by and my father would smile.

Maybe I'm more nostalgic than I thought, but I'm happy to have lived and worked in those times. I was young, and I know it was a long time ago, but I look back with fond memories. Now, to be a journalist, and to be involved in cycling, it's entirely different, and I know I'm not Bob Dylan, but the times they are a-changin'.

Yet even though they change, some things remain. Like the sound of a bunch as it races by and the smile of a father as he watches on.

Yves Perret worked at the Dauphiné Libéré newspaper between 1988 and 2010 and rose to be the sports editor. He is now the press officer at AG2R La Mondiale and runs his own media agency.

This story was edited by Daniel Benson.

Related Articles

Back to top