LeMond’s Disastrous Time Trial Ends in Yellow

Greg LeMond rides the Stage 9 ITT in Nantes during the 1986 Tour de France

Today’s stage 20 looked to be a critical one in the Tour de France, a 58km individual time trial in Saint-Etienne. This stage presented the last time trial of the Tour, one which Hinault said would seal the victory of the strongest rider.

This morning, LeMond headed out on his time trial bike to reconnoiter the course. And during the ride, his pedal breaks. One of the La Vie Claire sport directors Maurice Le Guilloux was following him in the car at the time and couldn’t believe it. “Incredible!” he says. “That never happens.” After last night’s warning from Tour director Jacques Goddet, the broken pedal left LeMond unsettled, and Le Guilloux, too. “But I tried to calm him. I told him, ‘It happens, pedals break; don’t think about it.’”

Before he started his time trial run, LeMond was interviewed. He didn’t look like a man on the verge of winning the Tour; he sounded defensive and defiant. “Hinault attacked me from the beginning,” he said. “He’s never helped me once. I don’t feel confident at all with him. You know, you never know what can happen. I could crash or flat, but I feel really strong. I don’t think there should be any problems.”

LeMond doesn’t trust Hinault:

Hinault and LeMond passed the first two time checks with just a few seconds difference between them.

As he raced smoothly through the tight, crowd-lined streets in the town of Saint Chamond, disaster struck for LeMond. The TV images showed LeMond flying into a 90-degree right-hand bend and then crashing near the left-side barriers.

LeMond crashes:

Tick tock. Tick tock. Every second LeMond lost—as he picked himself off the road, checked for injuries, checked his bike, squeezed the brakes, checked his chain, remounted—was time lost to Hinault.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Worse for LeMond, he doesn’t know how much time he lost at this point. Though Le Guilloux screamed to LeMond that he and Hinault were virtually neck and neck, LeMond couldn’t hear him as his aerodynamic helmet covered his ears.

Soon after, LeMond stuck his hand in the air to signal a bike change. His front brake began rubbing the rim after his crash.

But the spare bike from the roof rack was a standard road bike with a rear disc wheel rather than the low-profile machine he had been riding. The cumulative cost of the crash and bike change and loss of momentum was at least 30 seconds, probably closer to a minute. At 46 km, he was 30 seconds down on Hinault; at 51 km, it was 16 seconds.

Greg LeMond rides the Stage 9 ITT in Nantes during the 1986 Tour de France
LeMond suffered another disastrous time trial with a crash and bike change

LeMond finished the last 12 km safely, crossing the line 25 seconds slower than Hinault, another demoralizing time trial loss to the Badger.

LeMond retained the yellow jersey with 2 minutes 18 seconds to spare.

The broken pedal, the crash, the rubbing brake . . . in the immediate aftermath of the time trial, with blood dripping from his finger after gashing it opening a can of Coke, LeMond suspected foul play. But as he calmed down, LeMond considered each incident and was able to find a rational explanation. “I just took that corner too fast.”

Hinault spoke to reporters. “I’ve really thrown everything at Greg in the last 48 hours,” he said. “I’ve pushed him as hard as I can and spared him nothing—not words, not deeds—and I have put him under maximum pressure. If he doesn’t buckle, that means he’s a champion and deserves to win the race. I did it for his own good. Next year, maybe he’ll have to fight off another opponent who will make life miserable for him. Now he’ll know how to fight back.”

Does LeMond feel that he’s won the 1986 Tour de France?

“It’s not done till it’s done.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed this passage from Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore!

During the 2012 Tour de France, VeloPress traveled back through time to replay the 1986 Tour de France one stage at a time. Each morning of the 2012 Tour, VeloPress published a “stage report” with results from the 1986 Tour, which were passages from Richard Moore’s award-winning book Slaying the Badger and supplemented with articles and advertisements from the archives of Velo-news magazine and with race videos from YouTube. VeloPress is pleased to archive these passages from Slaying the Badger, which is an incomparably detailed and highly revealing tale of cycling’s most extraordinary rivalry between the young American Greg LeMond and his teammate, the legendary French rider Bernard Hinault.