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Fignon: Herrera bought ’87 Vuelta

Laurent Fignon — the two-time French winner of the Tour de France — has alleged in his new autobiography that his team was paid off by the Colombians in 1987 to allow climbing star Luís “Lucho” Herrera to claim overall victory in the Vuelta a Espana. Fignon recounts that Herrera’s team approached Fignon’s sport director Cyril Guimard at Système U-Gitane with an offer of 30,000 French francs per rider if they didn’t attack and helped ease the way for Herrera’s lone grand-tour victory of his career.

By Andrew Hood

Laurent Fignon — the two-time French winner of the Tour de France — has alleged in his new autobiography that his team was paid off by the Colombians in 1987 to allow climbing star Luís “Lucho” Herrera to claim overall victory in the Vuelta a Espana.

Fignon recounts that Herrera’s team approached Fignon’s sport director Cyril Guimard at Système U-Gitane with an offer of 30,000 French francs per rider if they didn’t attack and helped ease the way for Herrera’s lone grand-tour victory of his career.

Speaking to the Spanish news wire service EFE, Herrera says that story is “nonsense.”

“My victories were based on strength, professional quality and sacrifice,” Herrera told EFE this week. “If someone had given something to us during our experience in Europe, or if we had paid for something, we would have won the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia as well.”

The story dates back more than two decades, but Fignon is shedding light on the tale as part of his new autobiography entitled, Nous étions jeunes et insouciants (“When We Were Young and Carefree”), released before the start of the 2009 Tour.

The book initially garnered headlines when Fignon — who’s recently been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer — admitted that he took amphetamines and cortisone shots during his career.

The book is back in the spotlight again in Colombia this week after one of the major magazines ran excerpts detailing the alleged pay-off.

“Guimard had warned us: ‘The Colombians have proposed giving us money to not attack,’” Fignon writes in the book. ‘We had no intention of attacking, so all the more reason. We accepted the proposal, 30,000 French francs per rider.”

Herrera won that year’s Vuelta with Café de Colombia, 1:04 ahead of German rider Raimund Dietzen, with Fignon slotting into third at 3:13 back.

Herrera, now 48 and a national hero in Colombia, expressed indignation at the suggestion that his most important stage-race victory of his career was paid off with bribes.

“If things were like Fignon says they are, why didn’t he say anything about it then?” Herrera replied. “What he writes in his book is nonsense. We had a good team and we didn’t need anything extraordinary to win. Also, there were three teams with Colombians who would have supported me. And if that (Vuelta) was won by bribes, was it the same for the Dauphiné Libéré in 1988 and 1991?”

Nicknamed the “Jardinerito” (the Little Gardener), Herrera was among the most successful of the Colombians that entered the European peloton in the 1980s. He won the best climber’s jersey in all three grand tours as well as major stages in the Giro and Tour along with his overall Vuelta victory.

Herrera said Fignon was never a friend when they were contemporaries in the pack in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“He (Fignon) always spoke badly of us and said we were inferior to them,” Herrera recalled. “I don’t remember much of the few words we ever spoke, but it was obvious he didn’t like it that the Colombians showed up with ambitions and started winning races.

“Even in the flat stages, they would attack us to try to drop us out of the main pack,” Herrera continued. “It didn’t take us long to figure out that, beyond sport, the Colombians were not to their liking. Our relationship was zero.”

Fignon also said riders raced with copious amounts of cocaine during the Clásico RCN, one of Colombia’s major races, with Fignon winning the final stage of the 1984 edition while sniffing the white powder.

“We didn’t know where to put it,” Fignon says. “Feeling desperate, we sniffed it all in one shot. A gram each, which disappeared right into our nostrils.”

Follow Andrew Hood’s twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody