Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond has called this year's race "the best Tour I've seen in a long time", with the top six riders on the general classification still separated by only 2:14, just two days away from the finish in Paris.
In an interview on liberation.fr this week, the American said that he thought the absence of injured four-time Tour champion Chris Froome had changed everything for this year's contenders.
"It's raised their ambitions," LeMond told Libération. "But whatever happens, this Tour has already been a huge success. We're going to have a worthy winner, who will have had to take some risks."
The now 58-year-old LeMond won his first Tour in 1986, ahead of his La Vie Claire teammate and the defending champion Bernard Hinault, who remains the last French winner of the race. Current leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) or fifth-placed Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) now sit poised to give the French public what they've been waiting 34 years for.
"I really like Alaphilippe, and don't understand why he's been dismissed as simply a puncheur, capable of winning the hilly Classics but not the Tour. From a scientific point of view, a puncheur is really a climber. This year's Tour route suits him down to the ground, including the time trial in Pau [which was won by the Frenchman]. What he's doing is not impossible."
LeMond went on to win his second Tour in 1989 by just eight seconds from the late Laurent Fignon. The Frenchman had the yellow jersey going into the final stage – a 24.5km individual time trial from Versailles to the Champs-Elysees in Paris – starting with a 50-second advantage back to LeMond.
However, the American's use of 'clip-on tri bars' – the forerunner to today's aero handlebars – plus his use of an aero helmet and the decision to use only a rear disc wheel, rather than disc wheels front and rear like Fignon, all contributed to LeMond being able to take back 58 seconds and win the world's biggest bike race by the slimmest of margins, with eight seconds remaining the smallest winning margin in the Tour's history.
"I like the comparison," LeMond said of people holding the 1989 Tour up against this year's race. "It's true that it was a very suspenseful race. Everyone remembers that final stage, but the yellow jersey had gone back and forward [between him and Fignon] a number of times before that.
"On the evening of the Alpe d'Huez stage, four stages from the end of the race, I was convinced that I'd lost the Tour. But I was the freshest rider, and recovered well to be able to win the final time trial. Just like this year, nothing was certain. Plus, like Alaphilippe, I was in a Belgian team," added LeMond, who rode for ADR in 1989.
LeMond moved to the Z team in 1990, and would win his third and final Tour de France that year. He remains the only American winner of the race following Lance Armstrong's disqualification from the seven Tours he finished first at, from 1999 to 2005.
Asked who he thought would win this year's Tour, LeMond refused to be drawn, only telling the French newspaper: "I'd like to see both Pinot and Alaphilippe on the podium. They both deserve it."
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