Farewell to Laurent Fignon

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2 Time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon passed away yesterday after a battle with cancer.  I think most of us remember Laurent Fignon from the 1989 Tour in which he finished second to Greg LeMond by a mere 8 seconds (still a record for narrowest margin of victory...and it will probably ALWAYS be the record for narrowest margin of victory).


There are few athletes who are more famous for their losses than their wins, but Laurent Fignon is definitely in that category.  I remember reading an interview with him a couple years ago in which he mentioned how people were constantly coming up to him and saying, "you're the guy who lost the tour by 8 seconds," to which he was fond of replying, "yeah, and I also won it twice."

His victories came in 1983 and 1984.  When he won in 1983, he was only 22 and I believe that still makes him the youngest modern era winner of the Tour.  In '83, he was on Bernard Hinault's Renault team, but Hinault didn't start due to injury.  The lack of Hinault led some to call the '83 victory a bit of a fluke, but the following year, Hinault had jumped ship to La Vie Claire, and Fignon bested him by 10 minutes (3rd place was won by non other than Fignon's Renault team mate...a young American named Greg LeMond).

After that, Fignon battled with injuries for a few seasons before coming back strong for the magnificent battle with LeMond in '89.

You know, I can't think of a Tour which had such a fantastically charged battle between two prominent figures.  As an American, it was hard not to feel an emotional connection to Greg LeMond, especially in the context of his miraculous comeback from a near-death shooting.  LeMond's boyish innocence was in stark contrast to Fignon's chiseled looks.  The Frenchman's penchant for wearing circular eyeglasses (giving him the nickname of "The Professor") did not endear him any further.  In hindsight, I suppose it was rather unfair to categorize him as the villain, but he embodied that role fairly well, at least in my memory of the Tour of 1989.

But you know what?  That was hands down the BEST Tour de France I've ever seen.  Heck, it might have been the best sporting event I've ever seen...PERIOD!  And it was Fignon as much as LeMond who made it so.  It was Fignon who absorbed all LeMond's body blows and came back with more than enough knock-out punches of his own.  Had it not been for the fluky decision to have a short time trial as the last stage (not to mention the official's decision to allow LeMond's aero bars), we might be talking about Fignon's 3 victories instead of only two.

Still...I think Laurent Fignon is more glorious a figure in cycling history because of the 8 second loss.  His greatness was established in 83 and 84, but his legend was founded in 89.

There will never be another Tour like 89, and I very much doubt there will ever be another Laurent Fignon!

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