Citing calendar, LeMond knows he may spin Du Pont wheels

Phil Jackman

May 07, 1992|By Phil Jackman

WILMINGTON, Del. -- Greg LeMond looked at the first assignment in the 11-day, 1,000-mile Tour Du Pont beginning today and cringed.

"I feel a little nervous right now," admitted the man who has done just about everything you can on a bicycle, including win the Hope Diamond of cycling, the Tour de France, three times.

Good grief, this international star, this legend, has misgivings about a little now-you-see-it-now-you-don't 3-mile time trial that doesn't even count in the official accumulated time of the participants?

What's the estimated finishing time of the winner, seven minutes?

"Thing is, I've never had a sprint to open a race and I don't like a start that's too violent. I like to work my way into the event," he explained.

Besides, he knows as this country's greatest cyclist ever, all eyes will be on him from the opening bell. He long since has learned to live with the pressure, well aware it will always be there.

"A top 10 finish here would probably be good for me, although I think I have a chance to win," said Greg.

The seeming contradiction can be explained by the fact LeMond has a history of being just one of the guys in the pack through the first few months of the cycling season, then coming on like gangbusters.

In past Tours, including the de Trump events in 1989 and 1990, LeMond finished 27th, 78th and, last year, 12th.

"If this was August," he continued, "I'd have no problem standing here and saying I'd probably finish in the top three. Early May is not a good time for me. Then my form changes dramatically. In August [after a summer of tough racing in Europe], I'm at my best."

Not once during his lengthy conversation did LeMond's thoughts come across as being those of a man getting his excuses on the record beforehand.

He feels he's in good condition, but compared to what? He understands that holding top form from February through the World Championship in September is virtually impossible.

Especially when his schedule of between 120 and 130 racing days a year are dotted with so many small races during the cold months. "It's tough to get motivated for those short races in February and March; even though when you get going you give it everything you've got.

"The simple fact is, to win today you have to be at your very best, because someone in the field is going to be at 100 percent and your 90 percent just isn't going to get it," he continued.

"France, of course, is the big one, the one everybody points for. As you get older, you begin to realize just how big that race is.

"When you're younger, it seems the added energy you have keeps you pushing longer to win the races leading up to the Tour de France. All other races could be considered training races, I guess, but wherever you're racing you hope to win regardless."

An added incentive, of course, is not only LeMond's obligation to his seven-man Z team, but the presence of longtime rival and two-time Tour de France victor Laurent Fignon and the top-ranked cyclist in the world last year, Gianni Bugno.

No doubt they are the reasons why, during a rare stretch at home in Minnesota last week, Greg took two days off, then hit the roads for daily rides covering three to five hours. "That's my break," he said wryly.

Of course, he wouldn't have it any other way thinking back over the past decade, which has seen him add a second- and third-place finish to his three successes in Paris, win a world championship and finish second another time and post too many other top-five finishes to mention.

"A good result here is a sign of conditioning, so I think we're all anxious to get going and see where we are in relation to the competition," said LeMond. If he was nervous, as he claimed earlier, he hid it well behind a supremely confident manner and smile.

"You're motivated when you feel good on the bike and that's how I feel right now," he said. "I'm the best trained I've been [since the season started]."

Then, there's his most recent race. About a week and a half ago in Holland, LeMond was moving along with the first group when he dropped a chain. He lost a minute, but knows he had energy to spare as the end of the race neared and few can match him when it comes to one of those all-out sprints at the end of a race.

Ask Laurie Fignon, who owned a 50-second lead over Greg heading into the 16-mile time trial the last day of the Tour de France in 1989. LeMond won the 22-day, 3,000-mile event by eight seconds.

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