Only two weeks after his second place in the world professional road championship, Greg LeMond scored an overwhelming overall victory in the prestigious 11-stage Tour de l’Avenir which ended in Morzine, France, Sept. 20.
Not only did the 21-year-old American win three stages (including two individual time trials), but he finished more than 10 minutes up in final general classification on ‘ second-place Robert Millar of Scotland. The Tour de l’Avenir, long regarded the world’s number one amateur stage race, was opened to professionals last year and Peugeot’s Pascal Simon won the individual title.
There were 109 starters (48 of them pros) on 16 teams in this year’s event. The U.S. amateur team included Jeff Bradley, national road champion Greg Demgen, Matt Eaton, Alexi Grewal and Andrew Hampsten. John Patterson and Belgium-based Steve Speaks were also listed on the U.S. amateur roster but did not start.
LeMond finished 12th in the 4.2km prologue time trial won by East Germany’s Uwe Raab. Bradley was 21st at 21 seconds and Jacques Boyer (Sem/France Loire) was 30th, 23 seconds down.
Saved by Team in Stage 1
Thirty kilometers into the 157km first stage, LeMond was bent over on his bike with severe stomach cramps and diarrhea. His father Bob, who rode for most of the tour alongside coach Cyrille Guimard in the Renault/Gitane team car, said his son wanted to quit.
“I can’t make it,” the young LeMond said.
“Keep going,” said Guimard, who then drove off to follow the peloton as the American dropped off the back.
Guimard told Pascal Jules, the promising 21-year-old Renault freshman, to drop back to help the American regain the pack. It took nearly 100 kilometers – with LeMond in pain the entire way – but the duo finally latched on to the field. Then LeMond started feeling sick again. “He was to the point where he couldn’t go at all,” his father said.
LeMond slid off the back again and this time Guimard sent three riders back to bring him back. They succeeded and the American ended 82nd in the stage with the same time as the winner, Andreas Fetterman of East Germany.
Feeling Better Every Day
Led by amateur world road champion Bernd Drogan, East Germany won the second stage team time trial, beating Renault by 1:12 and the USSR by more than two minutes. It was a strong day for the amateurs, but not for the U.S. team, which ended last at 9:48.
LeMond was fifth in the 148km third stage won by Jose Alfonso Lopez of Colombia. Riding with a broken hand suffered in the second stage when a dog caused a crash in the pack, Boyer finished 31st, at 2:21.
The 21.5km time trial fourth stage began LeMond’s finest week as a professional. Though he proved in his rookie season that he can climb and descend with Europe’s best (fourth in the Dauphine Libere in ’81, for example), LeMond had never scored high in time trials. Yet teammate Bernard Hinault, to whom LeMond is viewed as a potential successor, has shown the importance of the event. It was time trialing strength that anchored Hinault’s four Tour de France victories.
LeMond demonstrated he can excel against the clock too when he caught his three-minute man, East Germany’s Pettermann, on the 15 percent climb of the closing 10km. His winning time of 43:37 was 18 seconds faster than Rafael Acevedo of Colombia. Hampsten was the best U.S. amateur with 46:12 – good for 20th place. Boyer dropped out due to his injury.
LeMond decimated the field the next day in the 130km fifth stage to take the leader’s jersey. The road from St. Joseph de Riviere to St. Pierre d’Entremont included the event’s most difficult climbs.
For LeMond that meant a 42×24. According to his father, Greg opened a big gap on the twisting descent where many riders crashed including Acevedo. Veteran Raymond Martin ended second in the stage, 5:25 down, and Millar took third. Grewal was the highest placed American in 18th, 18:57 down. National road champion Demgen rolled in at 30:11 in the company of world champion Drogan.
After taking a breather in the following two stages (he was 11th in the 145km sixth · stage and 66th in the 188lim seventh stage) LeMond went back to work. He was the only rider to break the hour in the 46.5km eighth stage individual TT, home in 59:39. France’s Martin hit the hour exactly and the Czech Sykora was 37 seconds off the winning time for third. Grewal was again the top U.S. amateur in 35th, at 3:52.
With three stages to go, the general classification standings showed LeMond with a lead of 8:29 over Martin and 9:47 over Millar.
“This evening, I think I have won the Tour de l’Avenir,” the American told the French press.
The race ended with few changes in GC. U.S. amateurs Grewal and Hampsten came alive in the final three stages to move up overall.
Hampsten was fourth in the 188km eighth stage, 48 seconds behind winner Hubert Mathis of France. Grewal took 16th in that stage and 13th the following day where Hampsten was 15th – both 5:22 off the time of Colombian winner Herrara. LeMond was an active (and safe) third in the 10th stage, 2:55 down. Bradley did not start.
LeMond’s teammate Jules won the final stage from ’80 Olympic road champion Sergei Soukhoroutchenkov of the USSR as the race leader rolled in with the field 15 seconds later.
Renegotiating His Contract
LeMond returned to the U.S. at the end of September and was due to spend about a month in Lacrosse, WI – his wife Kathy’s hometown. He has been wearing braces since May to correct an overbite and he’s scheduled to have a jaw operation in October. His food intake will be restricted for a month after the surgery.
LeMond will return to Europe and Renault/Gitane next season with a new contract, a new home (in Kortrik, Belgium, not far from France’s northern border) and – new status as one of Europe’s cycling stars. LeMond’s picture was on the front page of L’Equipe, the French sports, daily four times during the Tour de l’Avenir, his father said.
According to Velo-News’ Swiss correspondent Ernst Bretscher, the French cycling press is now saying that LeMond is likely to be a star with all the qualities of Hinault as well as those of his coach Guimard, who was once a champion rider.
LeMond’s silver in the worlds, victory in the Tour de l’Avenir, and stage win in Tirreno-Adriatico all came in an abbreviated season that was interrupted by a broken collarbone April 11. He missed several spring classics, Colombia’s RCN national tour, the Dauphine Libere and other stage events. Yet his season’s accomplishments have given him an excellent bargaining position in his contract negotiations.
Bob LeMond said that despite the recent successes, Greg is still not due to ride the Tour de France until ’84 or ’85.
Talking about his son’s new contract, Bob LeMond said, “It’s going to be a lot of money.” The bulk of Greg’s salary will be paid in dollars – a large additional expense for Renault, as the franc has been heavily devalued in the last year.
TOUR DE L’AVENIR. France, Sept. 9·20.
FINAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION:
1. Greg LeMond, Renault/Gitane, 31:97:32:
2. Robert Millar. Peugeot, @ 10:18;
3. Cristobal Perez, Colombia. @ 11:38;
4. Louis Herera, Colombia, @ 12:03;
5. Falk Boden, East Germany, @ 13.08;
6. Rafael Acevedo, Colombia,@ 13:16;
7. Milos Sykoura, Czechoslovakia, @ 14:05;
8. Petr Ugrumov, USSR, @ 16:22;
9. T. Claveyrolet, France, @ 18·48;
10. Sergei Morozov, USSR, @ 19:00;
28. Alexi, Grewall, USA, @ 2:51:04;
29. Andrew Hampsten, USA, @ 2:53:16;
74. Greg Demgen, USA, @ 4:21:19;
78. David Moyer-Oakes, Sem/France Loire. @ 4:31: 18.