Viewed from any perspective, it could only be described as a glorious afternoon for an American in Paris.
Greg LeMond, who had become the only American winner of the world’s greatest bicycle race when he won the 2,030-mile, three-week Tour de France in 1986 by a comfortable margin, needed the greatest closing surge of his career to win it a second time, 10 years ago today.
This time, he wasn’t a favorite. In fact, no one gave him a chance when he announced his entry in the 1989 race.
On April 27, 1987, LeMond was accidentally shot by a friend while the two hunted wild turkeys in Nevada. He nearly died, after being felled by about 40 shotgun pellets that lodged in his heart lining, intestines, liver, lungs, diaphragm and kidneys.
Recovery was long and slow. Then, after he resumed training, there were shin and leg ailments, followed by an emergency appendectomy.
LeMond said he’d be satisfied with a 15th- or 20th-place finish. Yet there he was, before startled thousands lining the finish course from the Palace of Versailles to the Place de la Concorde, out in front again. He won by eight seconds, the closest finish in 76 years.
To win it, he had to overcome two-time winner Laurent Fignon of France, who had built a 50-second lead two days before the last stage.
LeMond raised both arms in triumph at the finish; Fignon collapsed in tears at the finish line.
“Today is the happiest day of my life,” LeMond said. “It can’t be compared to my first victory, which was assured before the final days. Even if I win another Tour some day, it will not be the same as this.”
LeMond would win a third Tour in 1990.
Also on this date: In 1955, British speedster Donald Campbell became the first man to break 200 mph over water, at Lake Ullswater, England. . . . In 1959, Jim Tatum, whose 1953 Maryland football team had won the national title, died at 46 of a viral infection. . . . In 1996, the Rose Bowl, ABC and the NCAA agreed to a postseason college football format whereby a national championship game would rotate between the major bowls. The game comes to the Rose Bowl after the 2001 season.