Having already upset some of his former racing peers with suggestions that dope-taking was rife when he was in his pomp in the 1980s, two-time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon is at the centre of another storm. Once again, his recently released autobiography is the cause. In it, he alleges the team manager of 1987 Vuelta winner Luis "Lucho" Herrera bribed the Frenchman and his Renault team into not attacking the Colombian on the decisive final stage of that race.
In Laurent Fignon: Nous étions jeunes et insouciants (Laurent Fignon: We were young and unknowing), the Frenchman alleges that Renault team manager Cyrille Guimard told his riders: "The Colombians are offering us money not to attack." We didn't have any intention of attacking because they offered us 30,000 francs (approx. £3,500) per rider not to," Fignon writes.
Fignon says of the final day, when Herrera led Germany's Raimund Dietzen by just a minute: "There was a hell of a wind blowing and you could sense the fear of the Colombians. In fact, if we had wanted to we could have taken the initiative and blown them all apart without any problem."
Fignon, who finished third overall, insists his mind was more on making the flight home after the stage because he was bored and wanted to get back to France. "So we tried to speed things up. You should have seen Herrera's gestures when we were on the front. Filled with panic, he said we were playing a dirty trick. 'Why are you riding if we've paid you?' he shouted at me. I quickly told him that my intention was just to get out of Spain as fast as possible."
Not surprisingly, Herrera insists he doesn't remember the race in quite the same way. The Colombian, who alongside Federico Bahamontes is one of only two men to win the mountains title in all three major tours, tells Colombian magazine Cambio: "What he says in his book is total rubbish. We had a good team and we didn't need any outside help to win. In addition, there were three teams there with Colombian riders who could have helped me out. And if we did win with a bribe, were the Dauphiné Libéré titles I won in 1988 and 1991 also paid for?
"My victories came thanks to the efforts I made, my professionalism and the sacrifices I made for the sport. If we had gifted anything during those hard times in Europe or we had paid for something, then we would also have won the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia... If things were as Fignon says, why didn't he say so at the time?"
Herrera counters that Fignon's comments are simply a prolongation of the bad feeling the Frenchman has always had towards Colombian riders. "He always spoke badly about us and said that we were inferior to them... It was obvious he didn't like to see the Colombians winning," says Herrera. "We don't really understand, even beyond the sporting environment, why he simply didn't like us Colombians. In conclusion, our relationship was zero."
Having heard about Fignon's current treatment for cancer of the intestine, Herrera adds a conciliatory word: "It's very sad to hear what he says about his rivals, but sadder still is hearing about the delicate nature of his health at the moment. I wish him the best and hope that he recovers completely because I've been told he's ill at the moment."
The Frenchman devotes another chapter of his book to his appearance in the 1984 RCN Classic in Colombia. He admits taking cocaine there and insists its use was rife in the peloton and among those following the race. He confesses that the night before the final stage of the race he took so much of the drug he had no idea what he was doing and wandered off from the hotel the team was staying in. Guimard had to send team staff out to find him.
Fignon maintains he was so high on the drug that he couldn't sleep that night and kept roommate Greg LeMond up all night talking. The next day he won the race's final stage and then realised that he would have to undergo drug testing. "The Colombians had won a lot of stages up to that point and they'd clearly all been taking cocaine," he alleges. "I was a bit nervous when I went to the control but there were no surprises. It was as white as snow."