02 December 2021 By Elien Kaes History

Greg LeMond is probably one of the nicest profs that cycling has ever known. He liked to go for the win and did not expect any criticism when he finally succeeded. LeMond had a large fan base, because, apart from his nice character, he also had one of the fastest legs of all the riders of his era. It was of course nice when he could use these, but the circumstances were often not suitable. In 1985, Greg thought he was going to be able to use his talent to the full. Bernard Hinault asked if Greg wanted to join his team, La Vie Claire, as second leader. Hinault had some trouble with his knee, so he could no longer go all the way. Supporting a young, promising cyclist was therefore ideal for him. However, against his expectations, Hinault managed to go full out and this was reflected in his performance.

Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault

The Tour de France of 1985

After Greg had helped Hinault to win the Giro d'Italia that year, he hoped that it would be his turn to go for the win at the Tour. That this hope was in vain became immediately clear from the prologue. Hinault needed only 8'47" to win it, while Greg had to be satisfied with a fifth place at 21 seconds behind. But what are 21 seconds in a race that lasts hundreds of hours? Maybe not much, but with this, Hinault immediately showed that he was the master of the peloton and of the La Vie Claire team. Bernard also had a lot of supporters, because this year was probably his last chance to equal the record of five tour victories.


The French Bernard Hinault and American Greg LeMond had to deal with a lot of competition from strong cyclists from all over the world. For example, there was the talented Canadian Steve Bauer, who also rode for the La Vie Claire team and who was going for the white jersey for the fastest young cyclist. The Australian Phil Anderson also took a chance by betting on his strength in the mountains. In recent years he always came close to Hinault, but this year he was in top form and had the strong Panasonic team behind him. Ireland was also strongly represented with two top riders: Sean Kelly and Stephan Roche. The year before, in '84, Kelly was voted best all-round cyclist in Europe. Roche was also bursting with talent, but lacked the consistency needed to win the Tour. He hoped to change this that year. Finally, the Scottish rider Robert Millar was also at the starting line. He almost won the Grio d'Italia in April, but due to some bad luck he had to be satisfied with second place. So this year he wanted to go for the win at the Tour.

Greg Lemond and Steve Bauer at the Tour de France in 1985

The exciting battle for the yellow jersey

In the first week Bernard Hinault did not yet go for the yellow jersey, so that he and his team remained fresh for the later stages. However, everyone knew that Hinault could strike at any moment, which made the other riders anxious. Hinault already knew who his opponents were, so he knew he had to pick the right moment to break through. This was the eighth stage, a 75 kilometre time trial in Alsace. It was the longest time trial on the tour since 1960. Back then, such long time trials were removed from the Tour because they played to the advantage of cyclists who excelled in time trials. The Tour wants to attract riders who are strong in all disciplines. That this time trial was back in '85, played to the advantage of Hinault, because he really excelled in this. This talent also showed in that eighth stage. Between second-placed Stephan Roche and 24th place, there was a gap of 2 minutes and 20 seconds, as big as the gap between Roche and the winner, Hinault. That day Hinault took the yellow jersey, which was well deserved.

When a rider of Millar's calibre lost 6 minutes and 38 seconds on a 75 kilometre stage, it was clear that it was going to be a tough fight. Yet there was still hope: in three days the Tour would arrive in the Alps and maybe the mountains could provide a turnaround. But these hopes soon faded, when Hinault went on the attack in the Alps with 75 kilometres to go. Greg LeMond was not happy about this, because the plan was for Greg to counterattack. At the back, other riders also started to get desperate. Roche lost more than two minutes, Kelly and Anderson more than three and the Italian Roberto Bisentini, who was initially seen as a potential winner, was already more than five minutes down.

This trend continued the next day. Hinault defeated the other riders without too much effort. Sean Kelly was able to keep up with Hinault, but the rest, including Anderson, again lost more than two minutes. Meanwhile, the riders were already at the halfway point of the Tour. LeMond was in second place with 5'23" behind and Stephan Roche followed with 6'8" behind the strong master of the peloton, Bernard Hinault.

This was followed by three stages through central France, which promised to be silence before the storm. Two of them were, but the first, to St. Eteinne, almost threw everything upside down. In the bunch sprint Bernard got involved in a massive crash at almost 50km/h. He laid down on the road for minutes before he finally got back on his bike and rolled across the finish line with his face completely covered in blood. Fortunately, it turned out to be not that bad: with two blue eyes and a broken nose, Hinault continued to give his all.

Still, Greg LeMond kept hoping that an unlikely situation would arise in which Hinault would not be able to follow, but LeMond would. Greg was not allowed to attack Hinault because of a mutual pact they had as teammates. In the 17th stage from Toulouse to the Pyrenean ski resort Luz-Ardiden this seemed to happen. Stephan Roche was able to escape with a number of other riders, but Hinault was not with them. Greg, as was expected of him, caught up with Roche's group. After they got over the top of a mountain, a thick layer of fog suddenly appeared. This meant the race could no longer be broadcast on TV and it became unclear where all the riders were. Lemond once again believed he could win the coveted yellow jersey. He tried to test Roche with small attacks, but he put up a lot of resistance. Until LeMond was told that Hinault was right behind him and he had to wait. It turned out in the end that Hinault was several minutes behind. Greg was still able to finish fifth that day, which was the best of his team, and yet he was very angry at the finish line. If he had not been given the wrong information, he could have gone faster and perhaps won the Tour. It became clear to him that the team revolved entirely around Hinault, even though the team leader stated that he was unable to pass on correct information due to the weather conditions. Fortunately, Greg's parents came to visit that day, who reconciled him with the team. This put an end to the mountain stages in the Tour and also to Greg's chance of winning the Tour.

LeMond and Roche on the 17th stage of the Tour in 1985

Finally, the 21st stage made up for it all for LeMond. This time trial went around Lake Vassiviere. With many turns and climbs on the course, this stage would prove who was the most versatile rider in the peloton. At the first two check ins, LeMond was told he was slightly behind Hinault, but he did not panic. On the contrary, he threw himself fully into the race. LeMond needed exactly one hour and two minutes to win this stage and become the first American to win a stage in the Tour de France.

It was still exciting for Bernard Hinault, but after that nothing stood in the way of his victory. He was received at the Champs Elysées by a crowd of supporters, who gave him an euphoric welcome. Bernard Hinault won the Tour de France in 1985 and entered the record book with Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx with five Tour victories each. Moreover, Greg LeMond was the first non-European to win the Tour the following year, in 1986. He was able to repeat this feat twice more, in 1989 and 1990. So all's well that ends well.

The first Tour victory of LeMond in1986


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