WASHINGTON -- With one simple sentence, Greg LeMond made an incredible revelation.
"I'm trying desperately to get the muscles off my arms," he said, squeezing his right arm and then his left.
Imagine, LeMond with biceps.
"I've got to get it off before the Tour Du Pont," he said. "These muscles are just excess weight to carry up the hills. I keep thinking about Wintergreen (Va.) Mountain. It's a very difficult, steep climb that I lost some time on last year. I hope I don't lose as much time this year."
Over the past three years, LeMond has had to carry a lot of extra weight in the Tour Du Pont, but none of it has ever been muscle.
First there was the weight of being America's only premier cyclist in America's only premier cycling event. Then there was the weight of just being overweight.
At one point two years ago, it was beyond embarrassing. It was the Theatre of the Absurd. As LeMond would huff and puff and wobble to the finish, the big screen television at the finish line would show a television commercial featuring the three-time Tour de France winner jumping on his bike and riding off for Mexican carryout.
Last spring, his conditioning was better, but still not perfect.
Since his 1987 hunting accident, it had gotten to the point that no one expected LeMond, who points to June and July and the Tour de France as the peak of his season, to be in anything but average shape in the spring.
So, yesterday, when he showed his bulging biceps, the Tour Du Pont suddenly took on an added luster.
The Tour Du Pont kicks off with a Prologue in Wilmington, Del., May 7, before proceeding through 11 stages covering 10 days, 1,000 miles, four states and the District of Co
The Tour will start and end with LeMond's strongest event, time trials in Wilmington and Washington. Yesterday, he did not try to duck expectations. He finished 12th in the Tour a year ago. He expects to do better this time, because his body is in the best condition it has been in since the incident in which he was accidentally shot.
"If it wasn't for this muscle, I'd be four, five pounds lighter than I was last year," he said. "I spent eight weeks cross country skiing for conditioning and it worked, but it also built these arm muscles. I don't know exactly how to get rid of them,but I've heard the old saying, if you don't use it, you lose it.
"The problem is cycling still stimulates them enough to keep it there. It's come off a lot since January, but the stimulation has slowed it down."
LeMond paused and a quizzical look crossed his face.
"It'll come off, I'm sure it'll come off," he said. "I'm pretty sure. I'm working at it. If it doesn't, I'll definitely change my program next year. I'll just skate ski without the poles."
LeMond rides for the French team "Z", which will field its strongest entry in this race. Besides LeMond and Atle Kvalsvoll, who led until the final day of the Tour last year, when he was passed in the time trial by Erik Breukink of Holland's PDM squad, two other strong Z contenders are Eric Boyer and Jerome Simon.
"It's a team sport and I'll do what is necessary for the team to do lTC well," LeMond said. "But, because I'm in better condition, my own expectations are higher. If it's possible, I would like to lead."
Yesterday, he admitted that over the past three years of this race he has felt the pressure to do well as the only true American cycling star.
"In 1989, I felt the pressure tremendously," he said. "I was just coming back from the hunting accident and I wanted to win. I was very disappointed. . . . Last year, I was very competitive. I did the job I was supposed to do and helped my teammates, but if I had raced for myself, I feel I would have been in the top five."
In a reflective mood, LeMond said a lot of things changed for him after the 1987 accident. He had spent 10 years developing into a world class cyclist and then, with one errant gunshot from his brother-in-law's rifle, he lost every thing he had built.
"It took so much more energy and effort to come back," he said. "I found myself really struggling to find my conditioning. . . . I was only given two years, really, to come back to world class. I don't think a lot of people took into consideration what it takes to be at that level. It's been a much bigger struggle for me since that accident. I think my body is just now, finally, catching up with the demands of coming back."