In the next issue of peloton, we have an in-depth chat with three-time Tour de France winner and two-time Elite World Champion, Greg LeMond, on his three Tour de France victories, specifically, his experiences on the great Alpe d’Huez en route to each of those wins.
Interestingly, Alpe d’Huez was a part of each of LeMond’s three wins in 1986, 1989, and 1990. It was also included in his first ever Tour de France participation in 1984.
I’ll let Greg take it from here...
There are some myths in cycling. At the time, many thought that if you won on Alpe d’Huez, you wouldn’t win the Tour. That was always there. That superstition played a big role with some riders, and they thought "Well, I really don't want to win the stage because I want to win the overall." In that way, I felt like many were fulfilling their own prophecies. If you tell yourself that if you win the stage, then you won't win the Tour, all of the sudden, you've already lost the Tour.
My first time up l’Alpe d’Huez was in 1984. I was 23 and had visions of winning my first Tour. I got my start with (legendary director) Cyrille Guimard. I started that Tour with pretty good expectations. I got sick just after the start though. I had bronchitis and a fever, and I was really struggling.
I remember thinking that if I could get to the rest day, I’d be ok. In the Pyrenees, I got dropped. I had a couple of teammates who would pace me back up, so I could maintain as high of a spot on GC as possible. I suffered. It kind of scared me in a way to see how hard the Tour was. It wasn't really as hard as it seemed, but I was sick. If you're slightly off at the Tour, you're off.
The rest day was two days before Alpe d'Huez. We had a TT then a rest day. It gave me two days of recovery. I was able to hold on in 8th place going into Alpe d’Huez.
When I got on my bike the day of the Alpe d’Huez stage, I felt great. I was still kind of cautious though after all the suffering I had endured in the previous days. Fignon, my teammate at the time, was leading the race, and Hinault was second. Hinault started attacking just before Alpe d'Huez and Fignon and I were kind of like "What the hell is he doing?" It seemed like he was racing with almost no tactics. We managed to control him though.
That day, riding up Alpe d’Huez for the first time, felt like it was in some kind of fog. I had a lot of apprehension going into that day, and I was just hoping I could get through it. I actually felt really good up it. We hit the climb, and I slowly started to gain confidence. I made up a lot of time from the foot of the climb to the finish. I started to realize - oh my god, I do feel good. That was my first time for me.
I ended up getting 6th place that day. I was really happy. I moved up to 6th place, then fourth place, then another mountain stage, I moved up to third place. I ended up getting third overall in my first Tour.
I don’t remember much from the actual stage to Alpe d’Huez, but I do remember vividly what happened afterward. There was this woman in this black leather outfit, like she was straight out of a James Bond movie. She had a black helmet and rode a black motorcycle. She took off her helmet, and her hair fell down to the middle of her upper torso. She was tall, brunette, and quite good looking.
She walked up to me and said, “Monsier LeMond.”
I looked at her and said, “Yeah?”
“Monsieur Tapie would like to see you.”
I had never even heard of Tapie until about three months before. He was the owner of the La Vie Claire business and team - the team of Bernard Hinault. She tells me to come with her, and I said ok. I got on the back of the motorcycle with her, held on, and she drove me through the town of Alpe d’Huez to another hotel.
It felt like this super secret rendezvous with Tapie. Hinault was there as well. I kind of knew that it was going to be about the possibility of riding for La Vie Claire the next year - I had heard that Tapie was looking to talk to me in the news, so it didn’t surprise me that he wanted to meet with me. However, how it happened was not at all how I had imagined it - I go from sitting quietly in my hotel room to holding on to this woman in a black leather racing outfit on a motorcycle to go see Tapie at his hotel... It was wild. [laughs]
I get to the hotel and Tapie says, "Greg, we are interested in having you next season." Then, he showed me this prototype pedal from Look that was coming out next year. He promised me a royalty, and he offered me more money than I ever thought I’d make in cycling.
I went back to my room, and my head was spinning. I'm sitting there thinking: "That's three times as much as I'm making right now, plus royalty. Oh my God.”
Alpe d'Huez usually came at the end of the Tour, just before the finish, especially around the time that I was racing. There was always a lot of talk about team transfers and contracts for the next year going on that that time. It’s distracting to start thinking about racing for another team in a time like that. That’s the last thing you really want to do. You want to just focus on the race and get to Paris. That meeting with Tapie and Hinault turned me on my head.
Two years later, and my head was spinning again - this time, I was on Alpe d’Huez as Hinault’s teammate, but he was my biggest rival every step of the way en route to my first Tour de France victory.
There’s lots more where that came from. Make sure to pick up your copy of peloton 05 (on newsstands July 12) for Greg’s tales on three very eventful ascents of Alpe d’Huez.