In 1983 Laurent Fignon wasn’t supposed to win the tour. He was simply supposed to gather experience. Get miles in his young legs. If things went well, perhaps he could pick up the best young riders jersey. It was, after all, his first full season as a professional.
The Frenchman was a child.
But Hinault was injured and the team had no leader. No one to work for. Bottles were fetched from the team car, but domestiques had no one to give the bidons to. I picture Renault team riders simply reaching the front of the peloton and tossing them away, working to insert themselves into each and every breakaway in the hopes of getting a stage win.
When Pascal Simon faltered and Fignon found himself in first, the young rider just kept pedaling. Too young, too ignorant to concern himself with “The weight of a nation.” This was an adventure. The dominoes fell in just the right way and Fignon rode away from them all. It was an astounding victory, upsetting the understood order of the world. Rookie riders just don’t win a race such as this. At 22, he was the youngest winner in 50 years.
The Frenchman was a fluke.
With a new team in 1984, Laurent Fignon stamped his authority upon Le Tour. Quieting the naysayers with an overwhelming display. The masses all seem to recall Fignon’s 8 second loss to Lemond, but no one seems to remember his 10 minute victory and 5 stage wins in ‘84. It was a show of dominance, and retribution for a Giro d’ Italia stolen from him a month earlier.
Laurent’s career is overflowing with stories such as this, and one must think that when he was on form, the man was untouchable. That infamous year in 1989 Fignon lost the tour by 8”. But that’s a novel in itself… The legality of aerobars. His cantankerous attitude towards the press. Each day of that race more real than any life I’ve lived.
What one must remember is that Fignon was just coming off a Giro victory, where Lemond had placed a distant 39th. It was the very last day at the end of two grand tours, and Laurent was 8” away from pulling off the double. Barely able to walk from a horrific saddle sore, Fignon rode the fastest time trial of his career and still lost 58” on the 25 kilometer stage. How could anyone fault him? How can you sit there and ruminate on the aerodynamic drag of his ponytail and whether it cost him a 3rd tour victory? Who are you to say anything at all?
And anyway it doesn’t matter. Results do not diminish the effort.
The Frenchman gave all of himself.
Gasping for breath at the finish. Collapsing in the proper way. Not for the television cameras, but because there was nothing left.
Surely one of the Vanguard.