For those of us who live in the Reno, Nevada area, the Lance Armstrong disgrace is a cause for great sadness. Cycling and its ultimate event, the “Tour de France” is close to our hearts. Nothing Armstrong can say or do will ever allow us to forgive his criminal acts. And, I’m sure, most believe, as I do, that his ‘confession’ is a self-serving event. He is obviously attempting to avoid criminal prosecution, and civil lawsuits that could cost him tens of millions of dollars.
We northern Nevadans remember a man who trained here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and won three Tour de France championships. His name is Gregory James “Greg” LeMond. In 1986 he was the first American to win the Tour. In 1987, he was accidentally shot in a hunting accident, and missed the next two Tours. In 1989 he won his second Tour, coming from behind in the final event. He followed his victory in 1990 with his final win. He became one of only 7 riders who won three or more Tours. He retired in December 1994. He is credited with a number of technological advances in cycling, including aero handlebars, and carbon fiber bicycle frames.
In a sport and industry where cycling was bereft with allegations of corruption and doping, LeMond was considered one of the most naturally talented and “clean” cyclists ever to compete. In 2001 he became one of the first to lament that his beloved sport had become infested with ‘performance enhancing drugs’. After Armstrong won three consecutive Tours, LeMond questioned his victories.
In 2006, LeMond accused the ‘Union Cycliste Internationale’, the body that regulates international professional cycling, of doping related corruption. He maintained his complaint through 2012 when he questioned the relationship between riders and unethical sports doctors such as Italian Michele Ferrari. He further claimed that the doctors, management, and officials were the ones that corrupted the sport, and the riders paid the price.
Lance Armstrong and his association with the Trek Bicycle Corporation and their joint relationship with Ferrari, became a questionable association. A statement that became prophetic by LeMond said: “When Lance won the prologue to the 1999 Tour I was close to tears, but when I heard he was working with Michele Ferrari I was devastated. In the light of Lance’s relationship with Ferrari, I just don’t want to comment on this year’s Tour. This is not sour grapes. I’m disappointed in Lance, that’s all it is.”
Trek threatened LeMond with legal action in 2001 for his allegations against Armstrong. LeMond reported that through Trek, he was threatened by Armstrong with destroying him personally and financially. He was forced to call Armstrong a great champion and did not believe he used performance enhancing drugs.
In 2004, after Armstrong won consecutive Tour championships, LeMond spoke out again: “If Armstrong’s clean, it’s the greatest comeback. And if not, it’s the greatest fraud.”
We too often remember the headlines of the defamed, the steroid users, the blood dopers, and the human performance enhancing drugs available to professional athletes. Greg LeMond is who we should be hearing about. In Reno, and in much of the cycling world, he is a legend.
LeMond was, and is, a great American hero. Let’s focus on those of his like. Great achievements by great athletes without the aid of pharmaceuticals should be our focus. Those who cast shame on athletics, such as Lance Armstrong should fade away into oblivion. The shame he cast on his sport can never be erased, but he can be.
Columnist-The Guardian Express