Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Laurent Fignon
Laurent Fignon was a two time winner of the Tour de France, and one of the most beloved French cyclists of all time. He won a variety of races other than the Tour de France in his career, and missed winning a third Tour de France by the smallest margin in race history. Fignon, born in 1960, won 18 races as an amateur before turning pro with the help of Cyrille Guimard. Fignon started his career with the famed Renault-Elf-Gitane team, and quickly burst on the scene with skilled and tenacious riding. In the 1983 Tour de France, Fignon figured to play a supporting role to five time winner Bernard Hinault before Hinault ultimately was forced to withdraw from the race due to injury. Fignon took full advantage of the opportunity he was given to shine, turning in one of the great time trial stage performances in history just before claiming his first yellow jersey midway through the race.
Fignon won the final time trial as well en route to winning his first Tour de France. Fignon completed a repeat bid in the 1984 Tour de France, beating his former teammate, Hinault. Hinault changed teams before the race, but Fignon was dominant, winning five stages on the way to his second Tour de France victory. Fignon finished the race especially well garnering three of his five stage wins in the final several stages. Unfortunately, Fignon couldn’t attempt a third straight win in the Tour de France, as a knee injury kept him from participating in 1985.
He did not finish the Tour de France in 1986 and 1988, and finished the 1987 installment, but only in seventh place. In 1989, Fignon entered the Tour de France as the number one cyclist in the world, setting the stage for a legendary showdown between Fignon and the returning Greg LeMond, who was sidelined after being shot in a hunting accident. During the 1989 Tour de France, Fignon watched as LeMond surprisingly earned the yellow jersey at Stage 5. Throughout the race, Fignon played mind games with LeMond, challenging him through the press to ride more aggressively. In time, it became a two-man race, as Fignon and LeMond battled with all they had. From Stage 5 on to the finish, the yellow jersey belonged to either LeMond or Fignon, with the lead swapping from LeMond to Fignon, then back to LeMond briefly at Stage 15, then back to Fignon before the final time trial that would decide the victor. Fignon had a 50 second lead, but LeMond out-strategized the former Tour de France champion, using a more aerodynamically sound bike and helmet and beating the Frenchman by 58 seconds for an 8 second overall victory. Fignon was crushed, and the finish remains the closest in Tour de France history. After the disappointment of the 1989 Tour, Fignon would finish no better than 9th in subsequent years, dropping out in 1990 and finishing 23rd in 1992. He finally retired afterward, remaining one of the more popular French cyclists due to his persona and signature ponytail.
Because of his talent as well as his memorable personality, along with his participation in the legendary showdown of 1989 with Greg LeMond, Fignon remains one of the more beloved cyclists to have participated in the Tour de France. PPPPP Word Count 559.
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