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Nevada with Greg LeMond
We are waiting outside Greg LeMond’s home in Nevada. This is where he grew up, where he trained as a youngster, where he first raced. One of his actual race bikes is hanging from the ceiling of the open garage, glinting in the early morning bath of bright sunshine. There are also two other LeMond bicycles, carbon ones, leaning against one another in the corner. The LOOK bicycle with the Lightweight wheels looks out of place at first, but the La Vie Claire paint job gives away the fact that this too is a special bike and belongs in the family.
The night before we are to ride with Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France, we sit in anticipation on big, overstuffed chairs at our hotel. No one knows what to expect, but it is obvious that we are expecting something. The conversation is a flurry of call and response that allows us to freely dig into a past that we all know at least a little something about.
What bike do you think he will ride? The man has a tradition with wonderful bicycles. Not just the carbon rigs that were the final iterations of the LeMond brand (so far) but the steel frames that were ridden by the likes of a young Greg and his Team Z companions. Remember how the top tubes were always a wee bit longer than the rest to stretch you out and make you look, well, like LeMond? Or that baby blue and orange paint scheme that evoked an early Bontrager? Or how all the models of the bikes were named after his great exploits — Poprad, Buenos Aires or Ventoux (which was coincidentally my first racing frame and one that I still own).
What will he talk about? This guy is one of the greats and he has ridden with the greats. Not only ridden with them but jumped into the pro peloton and started banging elbows with them straight out of the gate. Laurent Fignon, Robert Millar and the venerable Bernard Hinault all became his teammates and peers in just a few short years.
And that is why we wait outside his house for almost an hour and a half before anyone actually sees the real life Greg LeMond. There is enough waiting time to make us question what we are doing here and work up a sweat worrying about it. Will he be amenable to our questions, or will it be better if we just leave him be?
Then, in an instant, we are in the kitchen with Greg LeMond. We drink coffee, admire Z Team Giro helmets (still in the box) and chat about where (and when) we will ride today. A forest fire is gripping one part of the county so there are questions as to what roads will be open. There is also the matter of what bike he’ll ride. The traditional steel frame with the quill stem, cracked red bar tape and Mavic ceramic rims seems to be the obvious choice (for us, anyway). But the newer LeMond carbon bike beckons from where it rests.
And then suddenly, when the bar tape has been tightened up in the parking lot of a nearby high school and a few anecdotes are told about the early days of riding in the pro peloton, we are mounting up and rolling out with Greg LeMond.
Scott, Greg’s son, is the first to go to the front and up the pace and soon, before you know it, he is off the front. Not so much intentionally, but just as a way to remind us all that we are indeed riding (even if this is a multiple-time-winner of the Tour de France we are riding with). It‘s not a surprise that he should be the one to do it, none of us wanting to be that first one to take the bait of the open road. The surprise, however, comes from Greg LeMond himself.
He moves slightly out of the group to the left and into the road and puts the slightest bit of pressure onto his pedals. And he does all of it in one fluid motion. His back arches which causes him to slightly shift himself forward onto the bike until he is almost hunched over the front end of the bike. That’s when I see it. When we all see it.
He chases down Scott with ease and a smile, maybe even 'whooping' as he passes. He then tears down the descent into the town of Markleeville. Ben Lieberson and I would talk about it later, that this was the moment. The moment when we forgot about how long we had waited in his driveway or getting impatient when he insisted on fixing the tape on his ancient bars. Or even when he stopped for the second time to adjust his saddle height.
When he stood up on his bike we all saw Greg LeMond. We saw him on the podium at the Tour de France. We saw him with his kooky glasses snarling at Fignon or looking to Hinault for the fatherly advice that was never there. But more importantly, we saw the greatest bike racer this country has ever known and a man that loves to ride his bike. We saw Greg LeMond.
He would lead us through a day of riding on some of the same roads that he trained on as a young cyclist. We would stop a few times, once being held up by the police for taking up too much of the road. And with every stop there was another story. Something about the World Championships here, a bit about Roland Della Santa [the frame builder] peppered in there. Then there were the roads. Roads that you have to see (and ride) to believe. Possibly the smoothest winding tarmac that I have ever seen.
But, the truth of the matter is that I was hardly aware of any of it, and I am sure that my Continental brothers would say the same. We were all trying to hang back a little (LeMond admitted later to really laying on the stories when he realized he could control our pace with them) and listen to any and all tales that we could coax out of him. Then, before we knew it, it was all over and we were back in the parking lot in front of his father’s house, our heads spinning.
Thank you Greg LeMond for sharing a ride with us.