Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Laurent Fignon

Laurent Fignon
 Laurent Fignon (1960 - 2010) was a French professional road bicycle racer during the years 1982 through 1993. He earned the nickname "The Professor" because of his round glasses and  his debonairness  Many people remember him as finishing in second place during the 1989 Tour de France, with a margin of only 8 seconds separating him and the winner Greg Lemond. He should be best remember for his two amazing 1983 and 1984 Tour de France victories. 

At a young age his sport of choice was football. His friends got him interested in cycling and in 1976 he entered and won his first race. His parents didn't want him to race bicycles. He did so without their knowledge and went on to win four more races his first year. During his 1977 year of racing he won only one race. His third year of racing, 1978, he won 18 out of 36 races that he entered. At the age of 18 he entered the University of Villetaneuse to study Structural and Materials Science. University wasn't for him and he soon left to join the army. Once out of the army Laurent knew he wanted to pursue a career as a professional bicycle racer.
Laurent Fignon 1982
 In 1982, at the age of 22, Laurent Fignon became a professional cyclist and raced on the Renault-Elf-Gitane team. During his first year as a professional he won the National Criterium. He also wore the pink leader's jersey for one day at the Giro d'Italia. In the Paris-Tours race he broke away and had a lead of 40 seconds on the field when his crank broke. 
Laurent Fignon climbing during the 1983 Tour de France
 As a second year pro Fignon rode the 1983 Vuelta a Espana in support of his teammate Bernard Hinault. Hinault won the 1983 Vuelta. Their team director, Cyrille Guimard, didn't want to send Fignon to the Tour de France. He felt that two major tours were too much for such a young racer in one year. Hinault announced that he wasn't going to be able to race the Tour de France that year due to an injury. Hinault had won four of the five previous Tour de Frances. Fignon was then allowed to go to the tour. Lacking a real team leader the Renault team's strategy was to go for stage wins. After the first mountain stage, stage nine, Fignon was in second place and was allowed to be the team leader. Laurent Fignon became the leader of the Tour de France after the seventeenth stage and cemented his first tour victory by winning the twenty first stage time trial. At the age of 23 Laurent Fignon was the youngest Tour de France winner since 1933.
Laurent Fignon leading Bernard Hinault during the 1984 Tour de France
 In 1984 Bernard Hinault switched to the newly formed La Vie Claire team. Fignon stayed with the Renault team and became the team leader. At the 1984 Giro d'Italia Fignon was leading the  Italian Francesco Moser who was in second place. In the final stage of the Giro, an individual time trial, helicopters flew in front of Fignon, creating a headwind, and behind Moser, creating a tailwind. Moser gained enough time in the time trial to win the Giro and Fignon finished in second place. 

Laurent Fignon won his second Tour de France in 1984. The race was a tough battle between him and his former team captain Bernard Hinault. Hinault attacked five times on the penultimate climb, the Laffrey. Each time Fignon rode back to him. By the end of the seventeenth stage Fignon had gained almost three minutes on Hinault and became the race leader. Fignon won a total of five stages that year at the 1984 Tour de France and won the overall general classification with a margin of ten minutes.

A knee injury kept Fignon from competing in the 1985 Tour de France. 

Fignon's team gained a new sponsor in 1986 and became the Systeme U Cycling Team. In 1986 Fignon won La Fleche Wallonne. He started the 1986 Tour de France but retired from the race during the twelve stage.
Laurent Fignon on Mount Ventoux during the 1987 Tour de France
 Fignon was racing strong in 1987 and finished in third place at the Vuelta a Espana. He won the 21st stage of the 1987 Tour de France and finished in seventh place overall in the general classification. 

In 1988 Laurent Fignon won the Milan-San Remo, but had to abandon during the 1988 Tour de France.
Laurent Fignon soloing to victory at the 1989 Milan-Sam Remo
 1989 should be considered a successful year for Laurent Fignon, but is best remembered as the year he lost his lead in the Tour de France in the final time trial. He won both Milan-San Remo and the Giro d'Italia that year. At the 1989 Tour de France the previous years winner, Pedro Delgado was late to the start of the first time trial and lost several minutes. The tour became a battle between Laurent Fignon and Greg Lemond. At the beginning of the final stage, an indivdual time trial, Fignon was in the lead with a margin of fifty seconds over Lemond. Lemond utilized aero -bars and an aerodynamic helmet to ride the 24.5 kilometer time trial at the fastest speed ever ridden in a time trial. Fignon wasn't able to sleep the night before due to pain caused by terrible saddle sores. The saddle sores also prevented him from warming up properly and doing his best in the time trial. Lemond gained fifty eigtht seconds over Fignon in the time trial and won the 1989 Tour de France by the smallest margin ever. A time difference of only eight seconds.
Laurent Fignon's 1992 Team Card
Fignon abandoned the 1990 tour and finished in sixth place overall during the 1991 Tour de France. At the 1992 Tour de France he finished in twenty third place. 

1993 was Laurent Fignon's last year of racing as a professional. He had one early season major win that year. He won the Ruta Mexico. At the end of 1993 Laurent Fignon retired from professional bicycle racing. 
Laurent Fignon waiting to start his last race in 1993
After his retirement from racing he worked as a race organizer. In June 2009. Laurent Fignon revealed that he was undergoing chemotherapy for metastatic cancer. He also admitted to having used the banned drugs amphetamines and cortisone during his racing career. He died of the disease cancer on August 31, 2010 at the young age of 50 in Paris, France.

Video of Stage 13 to La Plagne during the 1984 Tour de France with Greg Lemond providing voiceover.

Click here for information on Laurent Fignon's Autobiography.

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