Is Greg LeMond in Danger?

After yesterday’s rest day, the 179.5-km stage 19 from Villard de Lans to Saint-Étienne fueled LeMond’s suspicions that dark forces could be massing against him in his bid to maintain the maillot jaune and become the first American to win the Tour de France.

After declaring a go-slow in the first part of the stage Hinault tried, close to the finish, to break away on a descent. He escaped with Stephen Roche, the rider who had been at the center of last year’s La Vie Claire controversy. Loyal to his Carrera teammate Zimmermann, Roche refused to work with Hinault and sat up.

Urs Zimmermann Carrera 1986 Tour de France Velo-news

Zimmermann lost the Tour yesterday

Hinault’s intentions are now clear, though. He is still attacking, still seeking to claw back time ahead of what he had declared would be the deciding stage, tomorrow’s 58-km time trial.

Bernard Hinault Promises Greg LeMond the Tour de France

Hinault seemed to promise LeMond the 1986 Tour

American rider Andy Hampsten said Hinault attacked through the feed zone—a breach of etiquette to which, oddly, the rest of the peloton turned a blind eye. “I thought the [Hinault-LeMond] battle would resolve itself after finishing together on Alpe d’Huez,” said Hampsten. “But we saw Hinault go in the feed zone. We were shocked.”

Bernard Hinault attacks during the 1986 Tour de France Velo-news

Hinault attacks in this photo from Cor Vos

On the road to Saint-Étienne, as Hinault tried to get away, LeMond was bailed out by his most loyal teammates, Steve Bauer and Andy Hampsten. “It’s the only time I’ve ever chased a teammate in my life,” said Hampsten. “It felt weird; I felt sick doing it. I chased my hero, who also happens to be my teammate, but you know what? I’m thinking, This isn’t cool. Greg has the jersey.”

“I knew it was the right thing to do,” added Hampsten. “I’m pissed, sick of the whole situation. Emotionally, it is really, really hard.”

Speaking to reporters in Saint-Étienne after today’s stage, LeMond appeared close to breaking down. The strain was telling; his face was even more drawn. As Rolling Stone put it, “the Tour de France has taken the youthfulness out of LeMond’s face, glazing his small, blue eyes and stretching his skin tightly over the contours of his skull. At 25, he looks like the survivor of a death camp, hanging on to first place overall in what the French papers called a ‘march through hell,’ the hardest Tour de France in 40 years.”

“I don’t see any natural threats,” LeMond told TV reporters when asked what might now stop him winning the Tour. His eyes were red and raw, but they burned with intensity; he looked like he’d been crying.

“I keep hearing rumors about stuff, and I sure hope nothing like that happens. People say that 80 percent of the peloton will race against me, and I just feel that’s kinda absurd. I mean, this is sport. I’ve been racing with Bernard for years. But if I don’t win because of an accident, and Bernard wins because I’ve been knocked out by some rider in the peloton, I just say it will be his worst victory ever, and that’s a bad way to go down in history.

“It’s the tension from the organizer of the race, the public,” continued LeMond. “They want to see Hinault win. But if they want to crash me, I’d rather they told that to me right now, and I’ll give the jersey to him. I’ll stop the Tour de France rather than continue and have someone punch me and knock me down. I can understand the pressure he’s under. But I really can’t understand his attitude—that he wants to win so bad that he’d stab me in the back after promising to work for me in this Tour. You can never trust anybody. Life is that way.”

“I wasn’t really worried about something sinister happening until Goddet’s visit,” said LeMond.

Jacques Goddet, the Tour director. “He said he was so happy to see an American in yellow, and for an American to win the Tour. But then he says, ‘You must be very careful, Greg—there are a lot of people who want to see Hinault win.’”

Goddet told LeMond, ‘I’m hearing many things that are very worrying, and I promise you, Greg, I’ll do everything I can to protect you, but I can only do so much. You have to be so careful, Greg. With your bottles, with your food, with your mechanics . . .’”

“A lot of the stuff he was suggesting hadn’t really entered my mind…” LeMond said.

The organizer of the Tour coming to warn a rider at dinner? “Watch your food? Your water?”

Join us tomorrow for a crucial stage: the Tour’s last individual time trial, a 58km solo test in Saint-Étienne.

Today’s race report was adapted from Richard Moore’s new book Slaying the Badger, an incomparably detailed and highly revealing tale of cycling’s most extraordinary rivalry and the greatest ever Tour de France. Slaying the Badger U.S. edition final cover

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online in print and as an e-book:

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