Voters in the 2010 Cyclingnews reader poll have confirmed that the late Laurent Fignon was a true legend of the sport, with over 60% (10142 readers) voting for him ahead of Franco Ballerini, who also passed away in 2010, and Gilberto Simoni, who retired after this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Fignon had been fighting intestinal cancer since June 2009 and defiantly commented on the 2010 Tour for French television before being taken into hospital. He died on August 31, aged 50.
In 2009 Fignon published a revealing autobiography called ‘Nous étions jeunes et insouciants – We were young and carefree.’ Know as the professor during his career because of his round glasses, ponytail and air of intelligence, Fignon captured the hearts of cycling fans for his panache and love for attacking.
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 after being beaten by Francesco Moser in 1984. He famously finished second in the Tour in 1989, losing to Greg Lemond by just eight seconds, the slimmest margin ever in Tour history.
Fignon was never the same rider after his traumatic defeat and was also dogged by injury. He withdrew from the 1990 Tour, but went on to finish sixth in 1991 and 23rd overall in 1992, taking his ninth and last Tour de France stage win in Mulhouse.
His last victory was at the early-season Ruta Mexico in 1993, while riding for the Italian Gatorade team. Fignon admitted he did not have the motivation to continue his career and retired. He initially turned to race management, taking over Paris-Nice, until ASO bought the race. He later opened a training centre in the Pyrenees.
Lemond and Robert Millar remember a former rival
Fignon’s death was a sad day for cycling. On hearing the news, Greg Lemond admitted he had felt sorry for him after he snatched victory from in the final time trial of the 1989 Tour.
“I see him as one of the great riders who was hampered by injuries, Lemond told French news channel France 24. 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.”
“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 Tour de France, when in reality we both could have won the race."
"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.”
Robert Millar raced against Fignon in the eighties. He remembered him with his own special tribute on Cyclingnews.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.”