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.
Fignon turned pro in 1982 with the Renault-Elf-Gitane team after being spotted by former rider and legendary team manager, Cyrille Guimard. He won the Criterium International in his debut season and then stunned the cycling world by winning the Tour de France in 1983. It was his first ever Tour de France and he was just 22.
He then repeated the victory in 1984, winning five stages along the way. In 1984 he also finished second overall in the Giro d'Italia, winning one stage and the mountains jersey. He also won the French national title that year. He also won Milan-San Remo in 1988 and 1989 and Fleche-Wallonne in 1986.
The 1989 Tour de France
Of course, Fignon will always be remembered for how he dramatically lost the 1989 Tour de France to Greg LeMond in the final time trial stage to Paris.
He started the stage with a 50 second lead but LeMond won the time trial by 58 seconds to snatch his second of three career Tour wins.
LeMond rode the time trial wearing an aerodynamic helmet and used aerobars. Fignon wore no helmet and his ponytail flapped on his back as he fought to hang onto the yellow jersey. He was also suffering from saddle sores, which he later claimed were the reason for his defeat.
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.
Always outspoken but with huge ability to understand bike races like few others, Fignon made a perfect television commentator. Just like during his racing career, he was never afraid to speak his mind and criticise riders and teams.
He suffered with fatigue during this year’s Tour de France and his voice was affected by his cancer and treatment but he continued to commentate on the race, perhaps knowing it would be his last ever Tour de France.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.