Fignon crossed the line stretching every sinew of muscle, collapsing to the ground and dumping his bike as if he’d had one last, fatal argument with it. His pursuit had been brave. But futile.
On route to Paris, LeMond passed all of the check points in first place. The fastest of the 136 riders on the course at that stage. He averaged 34 mph (57 km/h), setting the pace for the fastest ever Tour time trial. A marker had been laid. He looked focused, rarely out of position, and glided through the tunnels along the side of the Seine, passed the Eiffel Tower towards the Place de la Concorde and the mythical finish.
Fignon’s pace was decent but he looked to be using all his reserves, perhaps distracted by the regular race updates and folly from the crowd. As the race grew he was frequently caught out of his saddle, and pedaling less elegantly than the American. Fatigue was setting in. Going into the race, Fignon felt he had worked harder during the Tour than LeMond, who he believed had hung back and saved his energy. It was a bone of contention.
LeMond crossed in 26 minutes, 57 seconds. It left Fignon, ponytail flapping in the wind, needing to finish in 27 minutes, 47 seconds to retain yellow. Like aerodynamics, course data and communication wasn’t what it is now. Finishing, LeMond knew he was fast, but not sure if fast enough.
Fignon crossed the line stretching every sinew of muscle, collapsing to the ground and dumping his bike as if he’d had one last, fatal argument with it. He reportedly asked if his time was enough but the sensation is he knew already. His pursuit had been brave. But futile.
LeMond triumphed by eight seconds. Fignon, his yellow jersey blooded from that fall, had to be scraped from the pavement. A great cyclist, a true character who had won the race twice, would now become ‘the man who lost by eight seconds’.
Studies since the race suggest even LeMond’s use of aerobars alone could have been worth an extra minute. Small margins, the ultimate gain.
Fignon died from cancer in 2010. LeMond’s tribute was warm. “We were teammates, competitors, but also friends. He was a great person, one of the few that I find was really true to himself. He didn’t have an ego. He really knew himself.”