Greg LeMond said he was shocked to hear of Laurent Fignon’s death, admitting he felt sorry for his Tour de France win in 1989, when LeMond snatched victory from Fignon in the final time trial to Paris.
Speaking on French news channel France 24, LeMond said: "It's a really sad day. I see him as one of the great riders who was hampered by injuries. 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.”
"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.”
“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 Tours de France, when in reality we both could have won the race."
He was one of the few riders who I really admired for his honesty and his frankness. We talked about a lot of different things outside of cycling and I was fortunate to really get to know him when my career stopped. I believe he was also one of the generation that was cut short in the early nineties because he was not able to fulfil the rest of his career. But he was a great rider.”
Fignon won the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984. LeMond was a young but talented teammate at the Renault-Elf-Gitane team in 1984 and finished third overall in the Tour. They went their separate ways in 1985, with Lemond joining forces with Bernard Hinault at La Vie Claire.
When LeMond recovered from a gunshot wound and returned to the Tour in 1989, Fignon emerged as his biggest rival in what would develop into arguably the best ever duel in Tour de France history. Fignon had won the Giro d’Italia in May and gained time on LeMond in the mountains but the American reduced his losses in the time trials.
Fignon started the final 25km time trial with a 50 second advantage and many considered it enough to win the Tour. However LeMond was one of the first riders to use aerobars and refused to give up, while Fignon was suffering with saddle sores and was very nervous.
Fignon finished third in the time trial but lost 58 seconds to LeMond and lost the yellow jersey. As LeMond celebrated, Fignon fell to the ground after he crossed the line, knowing he had lost the Tour by just a few seconds.
The eight second time difference is still the smallest ever winning margin in the history of the Tour de France.
“In 1989, when I was on the podium (at the Tour de France), I felt bad for him,” LeMond told France24, remembering Fignon’s defeat on that fateful day 21 years ago.