LeMond wheels in fans with rare home victory

May 18, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- By the time Greg LeMond left the start house for the final leg of the Tour Du Pont, a crowd estimated near 100,000 had lined the streets.

From the start at RFK Stadium to Capitol Hill to Rock Creek Park and back, people jockeyed for position. They yelled LeMond's name. They waved and clapped their encouragement as he strained to pedal his bike faster than anyone else along the rough, 14-mile course on his way to the finish line.

Everyone had come to see LeMond, this country's greatest cyclist. They had come to see him win in America, to see him take his first major stage race anywhere since the 1990 Tour de France.

And when he did, when he had crossed the finish line in 29 minutes, 59 seconds, the third-best time of the day, to wrap up the overall title with 20 seconds to spare, they mobbed him.

They blew kisses from viewing stands. They crowded around his shaking, sweating body. Little girls in curls screamed his name, and grown men in sports shirts reached out to pat his shoulders.

They lifted his bike above the crowd and passed it out of the winner's circle, and then they passed in a chair the same way, so LeMond could sit down, because he could no longer stand.

"I'm so happy to have this victory," LeMond said much later, after celebrating with champagne and flowers, after escaping the crowd and having his legs rubbed down. "I haven't won anywhere in America since 1985, and I'm not going to race forever. So this makes me very happy."

The crowd had nothing on D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly when it came to regard for LeMond. After giving the victor a check for $50,000, she said she too was thrilled to be at the finish with the three-time Tour de France champ.

"I was excited for him and I was excited to be kissed by Greg LeMond," she said. "But my husband is here and I don't want to say too much more about that."

The overcast day had started with LeMond holding a 10-second lead over his Z teammate, Atle Kvalsvoll, and 14 seconds over Motorola's Phil Anderson.

When it was over, LeMond was the overall champion, finishing the 11-stage, 1,006-mile race in 44:27:43. Kvalsvoll was second for the third straight year, 20 seconds behind, and Coors Light's Stephen Swart was third, 28 seconds back.

"It is OK to be second this year," said Kvalsvoll. "Last year, losing to [Erik] Breukink made me sick, but losing to Greg is not losing. I feel my team still won."

Anderson, who won three stages, finished among the top three for five consecutive days and was voted the race's most aggressive rider, wound up fifth, one minute behind LeMond.

"I thought I had a chance for the title," Anderson said. "I honestly think I could have taken the race, but the course was quite bumpy and the streets were narrow and it was very difficult to stay low on the handlebars. And then there was Greg, who performed so well."

The Tour Du Pont was LeMond's to win or lose in this last race against the clock. LeMond said he knew it, too.

"I felt the pressure," he said, still smiling. "I was very nervous. I hadn't come into this race expecting to win. I thought Atle would win. I thought I really didn't have a chance because of the Wintergreen Mountain climb. But my teammates won me this race.

"Atle worked for me and Terry Claveyrolet helped me up Wintergreen. I was 30 seconds back and he literally pulled me back into contention, so I could finish with the lead pack."

LeMond has been in this business so long he takes nothing for granted. And though he thrives on the pressure -- "It motivates me. I need it to push me." -- he also knows it causes him stress.

"I've always been the kind of rider who questions how good I am," he said. "In the start today, I realized I was so close to winning, and I was thinking about what could go wrong. I've seen riders get too confident with their leads. I hate to say this, but that's what happened to Fignon in 1989."

In 1989, Laurent Fignon lost a 50-second lead to LeMond on the final day of the Tour de France.

As LeMond set off on this last trial, he worried this could be one of the days when another rider might be as good as him.

"Some days, you feel like you're just floating," LeMond said. "That's how it was that day in Paris in 1989. It was like just floating through air, not work at all. But today, I wasn't floating, TC was pushing my bike every inch of the way."

But this is May and every LeMond fan knows spring is not his time of the year. At least, it hasn't been recently. Not until yesterday afternoon, when he pushed his bike to the finish and felt the joyful surge of the crowd, did LeMond find himself comfortably at home . . . in the spring . . . in his nation's capital.

"I love this!" he said, his blue eyes intense. "I love winning and I'd take this every year, if I could get it."

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