LeMond's Mental Toughness

Lammerts urged Greg to at least finish the Giro before he made any sweeping decisions about his future. Greg relented, and the next morning he was back in the saddle and once again bringing up the rear of the peloton. He came into the last day of the Giro more than 55 minutes behind the race leader, Laurent Fignon, who was making a comeback of his own after three consecutive years marred by injuries and other setbacks. But something had changed since Greg's hotel room crisis: He had been diagnosed with severe anemia—probably a lasting effect of his accident—and had started a course of (perfectly legal, and indeed medically necessary) iron injections. He felt better immediately. The final stage of the Giro was a 53-km individual time trial. From the moment he left the starting gate, Greg knew he was back—or mostly back. Six kilometers into the ride, he caught and passed a rider who had started 90 seconds ahead of him. Fifteen kilometers farther along, he overtook a second competitor, this one having begun with a 3-minute head start. Greg finished with the second-best time of the day, outpacing Fignon, who held on for the overall tour victory, by 78 seconds.

Greg had been so far down for so long that this performance did little to alter appraisals of his prospects for the Tour de France, which would begin three weeks later. All eyes were on defending champion Pedro Delgado and the newly resurgent Fignon. Greg himself said he would consider a top-20 finish a success, as his body was still a bit of a question mark. His mind, however, was not.

The Tour began on Saturday, July 1, in Luxembourg, with a prologue in the form of a 7.8-km individual time trial. Greg stopped the clock at 10 minutes flat, a time bettered by just one rider and matched by two others, including Fignon. Greg's fine result was overshadowed by a debacle involving the defending champion, who missed his start time and lost 2:40 to the rest of the 198-man field before he'd even left the gate. But while the media overlooked Greg in all the hullabaloo over Pedro Delgado's inexplicable self-sabotage, at least one of his rivals did not. Upon seeing the results of the prologue, Fignon marked the American as the man most likely to stand in the way of his third Tour victory.

Greg himself was ecstatic about his performance, but he tried hard to tamp down the emotion. For two long years, hope had never amounted to anything more than a setup for crushing disappointment. "I have to be careful not to get too confident too quickly," he told the press.

The first big test for the ADR team as a collective came two days later with a 48-km team time trial. Greg and the eight nobodies who wore the same uniform surpassed low expectations with a fifth-place finish, losing 51 seconds to Fignon's Super U team. Greg came away from the stage in 14th place in the General Classification, 11 spots behind the French favorite.

Stage five pitted each man against all in an unusually long, 73-km time trial contested in wet conditions. Greg had felt strong enough in the preceding stages that he dared to dream of winning this one. To better his chances, he tried a new piece of equipment: aero handlebars, or triathlon bars, as they were more often called in those days. More functionally than technically innovative, the device consisted of an elongated U-shaped piece of metal tubing upon which the rider rested his forearms, a position that flattened the back and narrowed the front profile, reducing wind drag. Aerobars had debuted at the Tour de Trump, where they were used by a handful of American riders. The Europeans scorned them, but Greg judged them worth a try.

They were. Greg won the time trial, beating Delgado by 24 seconds and Fignon by 56. The latter margin was sufficient to lift Greg to first place in the G.C. At a ceremony held after the race, he donned the yellow jersey of the race leader for the first time since he had won the Tour in 1986. He told the crowd, "This is the most wonderful moment of my life," and he meant it. Being on top, he discovered, was that much sweeter when you'd come up from the very bottom.

When the Tour entered the mountains in stage 9, Delgado, still paying for his late start in the prologue, had little choice but to go on the attack. On the first of two tough days in the Pyrenees, the Spaniard gained back 29 seconds on Fignon and Greg, who were more concerned with marking each other. The next day, Delgado took fuller advantage of his rivals' distraction, crossing the finish line at the summit of the Superbagn?res ski resort nearly 3.5 minutes ahead of Fignon, who used a late attack to beat Greg by 12 seconds and reclaim the yellow jersey.

The next few stages were uneventful. Mostly flat, they featured bunch sprints to the finish line and breakaways by cyclists who were not threats to the top riders in the General Classification. Then came stage 15, another individual time trial. Greg again used the triathlon bars, but he spent little time in them because the 39-km course was largely uphill, removing aerodynamics from the performance equation. He finished fifth, losing 7 seconds to Delgado and gaining 47 on Fignon. Greg was back in yellow.

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