“It’s not the bicycle…it’s the legs”: a sprint through a big swatch of bicycling history, focusing on racer Greg LeMond’s triumphant return from disaster.
Veteran journalist de Visé (Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, 2015, etc.) takes on a big story with that of LeMond, who, in the mid-1970s, came roaring out of a bicycle racing scene that “resembled Grateful Dead concerts, albeit on a smaller stage.” Nicknamed “Lemonster,” the determined young man came along at just the time that the U.S. bicycling scene was emerging from its backwater doldrums, a flowering celebrated in the contemporary film Breaking Away. LeMond famously went on to become the first American to win the storied Tour de France competition in 1986. The following year, while recuperating from an injury, he was accidentally shot while hunting and nearly bled to death, necessitating a long program of recovery. He survived to win twice more, in 1989 and 1990, when he “seemed…more nervous about his chances now than in 1989, when his odds were indeed slim, and more fearful of some mishap than in 1986, when the Tour director himself had fretted for Greg’s safety.” The author, who sometimes writes with the techno-geekery of the bicycle acolyte and sometimes with the breeziness of a practiced sportscaster, makes clear that LeMond accomplished all this largely through sheer determination. His opposite in all this, apart from a few diabolical French opponents, is Lance Armstrong, who “possessed the raw talent to become an elite athlete” but exhibited all the arrogance and weakness of character that would later lead to his expulsion from the sport for doping. In that matter, LeMond, now in his late 50s, has emerged as an advocate for racing reforms that include ending the practice of allowing cyclists to change bikes midrace.
It’s a pleasure to ride in the peloton alongside LeMond, who emerges from this account as America’s once-and-future cycling great.