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Tour de France

VN Archives: LeMond’s Tour de force

Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault rode across the line on the Alpe d'Huez after sticking it to their rivals

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The most exciting ever, was what some observers were calling this year’s Tour de France, July 4-27. For U.S. spectators, it was made even better by the fact that it was won by an American, Greg LeMond.

LeMond completed the 2,542 miles in 110 hours, 35 minutes, and 19 seconds, besting La Vie Claire teammate Bernard Hinault by three minutes, 10 seconds. Hinault won his fifth Tour last year and vowed to work for LeMond in ’86. Instead, he rode aggressively against LeMond for most of the race. At midpoint Hinault had put more than five minutes between himself and his teammate. However, LeMond responded with a win in stage 13, which earned back most of the time deficit.

Four stages later LeMond was in the leader’s jersey for good. In addition to his stage win, LeMond placed second twice, third twice, and eighth twice during the Tour. There were other significant accomplishments for North Americans in the Tour. Alex Stieda of Canada made history by being the first North American to don the yellow jersey. U.S. rider Davis Phinney won the first road stage by an American, and teammate Ron Kiefel was second in the seventh stage.

7-Eleven was the first U.S.-based team to enter the Tour, and they finished with five riders: Bob Roll, Raul Alcala, Jeff Pierce, Stieda, and Kiefel. U.S. rider Andy Hampsten finished fourth overall and earned the white jersey of the best first-year rider. Other honors went to Eric Vanderaerden (points competition), and Gerrit Solleveld (catch sprints). La Vie Claire won the team competition.

Stage 18 – July 21, 1986

Briançon to Alpe d’Huez

Was it a simple publicity stunt for the assembled cameras of the world’s media or a move of genuine affection between two good friends? That was the question after LeMond and Hinault dynamited the entire field to finish together arm-in-arm 5:15 up on third-place Zimmermann. There is no doubt that it was one of the most spectacular days in the long history of the Tour de France.

The story started on the Galibier, the highest col in this year’s Tour. After 65 riders en bloc crossed the highest point in this year’s Tour (8,018 feet), Hinault attacked on the descent with watchdog Bauer. He was soon joined by Ruiz Cabestany, Zimmermann, and LeMond. While going 100 kph down the hairpin descent and looking down to see if he was really in his 12 cog, Zimmermann went off the road and lost 50 meters to the group.

Sensing this was the opportunity to move Hinault back into second, the group picked up speed to make sure the Swiss wouldn’t get back on. In the descent of the Telegraphe, Hinault once again attacked but he was rejoined at the bottom. On the third-category Cote de Pierrepain Bauer was dropped from the group, as was Ruiz Cabestany on the much steeper first category Col de la Croix de Fer. Wanting to climb at his own smooth rhythm, Hinault offered to set pace and LeMond followed behind. LeMond was concerned that he might be attacked by rabid French fans, and staying behind Hinault seemed a much safer alternative.

The two continued to increase their lead on the Alpe d’Huez with Hinault at the front the entire length of the most crowded of all Tour climbs. Police estimated there were 250,000 people on the 13km ascent, which translates into a sardine-packed average of almost 10 cycling fanatics per meter. With four helicopters escorting them in, Hinault and LeMond spent the last 400 meters patting each other on the back, waving to the crowd, and hamming it up for the cameras before crossing the finish line arm-in-arm.

While the events of this day will no doubt make their way into the book of Tour legends, some spectators didn’t see it as coincidental that the LeMond-Hinault tandem’s image-conscious sponsor, Bernard Tapie, happened to pay a visit on this stage. Far behind, Zimmermann had managed to extricate himself from a nine-man chase group on the Croix de Fer and rode the last 60km alone. Cracked the tall Swiss at the finish, “They rode the Barrachi [two-man time trial]; I rode the Grand Prix of Nations.”

Hampsten once again rode well, finishing sixth in the stage, 6:22 down, and jumping over Delgado and Millar to fourth overall. A sick Millar struggled in 19:37 down, while Delgado abandoned in tears on hearing the news that his mother had died. Yet another Tour victim was Heiden, who was not able to fulfill his goal of simply finishing the Tour when he crashed on the Galibier descent. On one of the rare stages when he didn’t wear a hardshell helmet, Heiden hit his head and was transported to the hospital with a slight concussion.

BRIANCON·L’ALPE D’HUEZ, 162.5km, July 21. I. Hinault 5:03:03 (32.7kph): 2. LeMond. st; 3. Zimmermann at 5:15; 4. Reyne Montoya, Postobon, at 6:06: 5. Madiot at 6:21: 6. Hampsten at 6:22: 7. Pensec at 6:26; 8. Cabrera at 6:34; 9. Pascal Simon, Peugeot, at 6:45; 10. Pino at 6:48: 14. Bauer at 7:45; 93. Pierce at 22:32: 104. Kiefel at 23:51: 126. Stieda at 26:08.