Greg LeMond is the only American to ever win the Tour de France (those Armstrong and Landis fellows had their wins stripped). In fact he won it three times and one of those is still the closes finish in the history of the Tour. ‘The Comeback’ is his story and it’s a tremendous one. Full of ups and downs and when I mean a downs, I mean a near death experience. Like 20 minutes from death experience.
‘The Comeback’ is written by Daniel De Vise. He’s won a Pulitzer Prize for some other thing but his 2019 book on LeMond is pretty awesome. Maybe not Pulitzer worthy but certainly worth your time none the less. De Vise does a great job telling LeMond’s story which has been trying to say the least.
LeMond fell into cycling when it was an outsider sport in America in the mid to late 70’s. Turns out he had a gift for it. Working his way up, he won the Tour de France in 1986 but almost didn’t thanks to his teammate at the time — and cycling legend — Bernard Hinault. That’s a long story but there is an ESPN 30 for 30 on it called ‘Slaying the Badger’.
Of course after winning the Tour de France, LeMond was nearly killed in a hunting accident. To this day he still has shotgun pellets near his heart. According to the book, LeMond would have bled out in the ambulance and as luck would have it the chopper headed for another call broke off and picked him up, saving his life. His road back was a struggle but he was able to race again and sooner than you might have thought.
LeMond would comeback and win the Tour again in 1989 in the closes finish in its history. While the last day is traditional just a ceremonial ride through Paris with the winner decided the day before, this particular year they did a time trial on the last day through the Champs-Élysées. LeMond was in second and he just crushed it. He overtook his rival and former teammate Laurent Fignon to win by a mere 8 seconds. Fignon would spend the rest of his life counting off 8 seconds when he did things. It never left him.
The book of course goes into the rivalry with Lance Armstrong, doping and the like. One of the more interesting takeaways for me was the cycling traditions and protocols that existed and in some ways still do exist in the sport. LeMond ignored them at times and fought to do things the way he thought would work for him. Turns out he was right.
Like I said, this book is awesome. I timed it right and was reading it during the 2023 Tour de France. Kind of helped keep things in perspective and gave me an appreciation of LeMond’s accomplishments. To do what he did when he did it, man, that is just next level.