Advertisement

LeMond Does It Again : Tour de France: American rider gets some help from his friends, wins second consecutive title.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eric Boyer of France finished the Tour de France’s final stage Sunday in 126th place out of the 156 riders who completed this 2,112-mile event.

Yet he looked as if he were the one who wore the coveted yellow jersey as the riders made the traditional eight laps around the Champs-Elysee before thousands of fans.

Boyer was not in yellow, signifying the overall leader. He was wearing the shirt of the French team Z.

Boyer’s teammate, Greg LeMond, wore the yellow jersey in winning his third Tour de France in five years Sunday with a relaxing 113.5-mile stage from Bretigny-sur-Orge to Paris.

Advertisement

Johan Museeuw of Belgium won the stage in 4 hours 53 minutes 52 seconds, the same time for all 156 riders.

In a massive final sprint, Museeuw crossed the line just ahead of the others. Sunday’s results, however, hardly mattered.

The Tour was decided on the backroads of France, where LeMond’s teammates responded to situations that changed the race’s outcome.

Perhaps without Boyer and other Z teammates, LeMond would not have gained the 77th Tour title.

Advertisement

LeMond was the first to acknowledge his teammates after Saturday’s time trial at Lac Vassiviere. There, he gained the yellow jersey for the first time by defeating Claudio Chiappucci of Italy.

Chiappucci had held a five-second lead over LeMond for the previous four stages. It was a lead that would have been much bigger had LeMond’s team failed him.

LeMond built a 2-minute 16-second lead--his winning margin--over Chiappucci Saturday.

Eric Bruekink of the Netherlands was third, 2:39 back, and Pedro Delgado of Spain was fourth, 5:01 behind.

Advertisement

Boyer was not among the leaders. He was relegated to the role of a domestique , with the responsibility to protect LeMond as he had Ronan Pensec of France, who held the lead in the second week.

But long after the crowd had left the finish at Place de la Concord, Boyer leaned contently against his orange and black bicycle.

He was not ready to leave, savoring a few more minutes of his team’s victory.

Boyer said he felt as if he was the winner of this Tour, which was contested during a week of record-high temperatures throughout France.

Advertisement

“When I was a little boy I used to watch the great riders such as Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx and dream about what it would be like,” he said. “Now, I know.”

Last Wednesday, during the final mountain stage, Boyer showed the mettle of a champion.

Midway through the stage from Lourdes to Pau, LeMond had a flat tire and lost 12 miles to Chiappucci.

Boyer and teammate Jerome Simon came to LeMond’s aid immediately.

Advertisement

“We stopped, got off our bikes and gave Greg a hand,” Boyer said. “Greg kept saying, ‘I’ve blown it, I’ve lost the race.’ ”

Boyer felt otherwise.

He helped LeMond regroup and take off after Chiappucci. By playing a sort of game of leap frog, the Z riders caught Chiappucci and LeMond escaped without losing a second in the stage.

A group can go farther and faster over a long haul than one cyclist. LeMond, all the while, was able to conserve energy in his teammates’ draft.

Advertisement

That stage, the 18th of 22, illustrated the many changes in LeMond’s career.

For the first time he is happily settled on a team that respects him and his quirky Americanways.

LeMond’s tumultuous career has been hampered by personality clashes with European teammates who view the Tour de France as a cultural icon. They expect a certain reverence from their peers for everything French.

LeMond honed his skills in Reno, Nev., after taking up the sport to help rehabilitate a leg from a ski injury.

Advertisement

Although he is fluent in French, he takes pride in his American peculiarities.

One that irritated the French was his eating habits. He would forgo lavish French pate for hamburgers and fries.

When he became the first American to win a Tour in 1986, LeMond said few of his teammates were happy. Those who did celebrate were Andy Hampsten of Boulder, Colo., and Steve Bauer of Canada, North Americans who understood the importance of the victory.

It seems no matter what LeMond has done, he has had his share of critics.

Advertisement

“That’s the European attitude,” said Kathy LeMond, who has suffered her own set of problems living in Europe as her husband competes.

“This is so important this year. They (the Z riders) really like each other, and Greg has never had that before. They accept Greg even if he is an American.”

LeMond was criticized last spring for riding poorly, although he was suffering from a virus that left him fatigued.

“They didn’t believe he was sick,” Kathy LeMond said.

Advertisement

And when LeMond recuperated, starting with a training ride through the Tour de Trump last May, many said he was through.

LeMond was undaunted. Otto Jacome, his longtime masseur, says LeMond becomes more resilient the more he is ridiculed.

LeMond said Sunday he started to return to form at the Trump race, although at times did not show it.

“Just racing a bicycle again was a good feeling,” he said.

Advertisement

Those around him knew how good. Boyer said Sunday’s victory did not surprise the Z riders, who trained with LeMond and knew his capabilities.

Still, LeMond shared a private moment during the final ride along the Champs-Elysee when he thought back to what he had accomplished in this race.

He reflected on overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat Laurent Fignon of France on the final day last year by making up more than 50 seconds in a time trial from Versailles toParis.

He reflected on the effort to narrow this year’s deficit. LeMond rode at break-neck speeds down the twisting Pyrenee Mountain passes.

Advertisement

“I never took risks like that at any other time in my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that at any other race.”

Most of all, LeMond reflected on his team’s support.

He had a victory to share.


Advertisement
Advertisement