Chairman Bill's History of the Tour de France:
How a Newspaper Promotion Became the World's Greatest Sporting Event
These excerpts are from "The Story of the Tour de France", Volume 2. If you enjoy them we hope you will consider purchasing the book, either print or electronic. The Amazon link here will make either purchase easy.
1990. LeMond had always made it clear that he did not think that the European professional cycling culture of year-round asceticism was right for him. He felt that a life was to be lived. In the off season this could manifest itself in a visible loss of form. At the start of the 1990 season LeMond was noticeably overweight. The situation was not improved when he had a bout of mononucleosis (Brits call it glandular fever). On the plus side, for the first time in his career, LeMond had a strong team that was dedicated to him. There were no split loyalties of the sort both he and Stephen Roche had been forced to deal with in earlier years. And unlike his 1989 ADR team, his new team, sponsored by a children's clothing company "Z", had riders who could assist him during the entire Tour. His "Z" helpers included climber Robert Millar, and all-around strongmen Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle (a future 2-time ParisRoubaix winner) and Ronan Pensec. These were good men to have on one's side.
While there may have been justifiable worries about LeMond's fitness to contest the Tour de France, these fears were almost immediately put to rest with the Prologue time trial. Thierry Marie, who made a habit of winning these mini-time trials, won this one. LeMond was second at only 4 seconds. Raul Alcala scored third with just about the same time. Fignon was fifteenth at 19 seconds.
Thierry Marie speeds to the Prologue victory.
The first stage was one of those dopey stages in which a break of good riders, generally thought to be General Classification non-threats, was allowed to get away. The pack must have had a day of non compos mentis because this was a group of good racers
Claudio Chiappucci, who never had any regard for conservative tactics, took off when the first stage was only 6 kilometers old. Steve Bauer, Ronan Pensec and Frans Maassen quickly joined him. For the first 30 kilometers the quartet was only able to squeeze out a 30-second lead. Then, as is often the case, the peloton relented in its chase, perhaps slowed by a crash that took Pedro Delgado down. The lead increased and by the end of the stage the pack was 10 minutes, 35 seconds behind the 4 speedy adventurers. All of these riders except Chiappucci were well known quantities. Bauer was fourth in the 1988 Tour. Pensec had a sixth and a seventh in his past Tours. They were tough riders who would probably surrender their time in the high mountains only after a tough fight. But Chiappucci?
So far, Chiappucci had shown himself to be a competent but unspectacular racer. The previous year he was forty-sixth in the Giro and eighty-first in the Tour. He did manage to win the Giro del Piemonte and score a second in the hilly Giro del Trentino. This year he had improved, with a seventh in ParisNice and a commendable twelfth in the Giro. This did not seem to be the stuff of a Tour contender on the level of Fignon or Delgado. But wait, Chiappucci was King of the Mountains in this year's Giro. Hmmm…
Bauer was in Yellow yet again. The General Classification now stood thus:
- 1. Steve Bauer
- 2. Frans Maassen @ 2 seconds
- 3. Claudio Chiappucci @ 9 seconds
- 4. Ronan Pensec @ 21 seconds
- 5. John Carlsen @ 9 minutes 3 seconds
- 6. Guido Winterberg @ 9 minutes 44 seconds
- 7. Thierry Marie @ 10 minutes 24 seconds
- 8. Greg LeMond @ 10 minutes 28 seconds
As the Tour went clockwise across northern France and then headed south for the Alps, the general situation remained unchanged, with the stage 1 breakaway quartet sitting on top of the leader board and Bauer in Yellow. A crash in stage 4 cost Robert Millar over 9 minutes and effectively eliminated this winner of the 1990 Dauphiné from contention.
Raul Alcala blistered the stage 7 time trial with Miguel Indurain second to him at a distant 1 minute, 24 seconds. LeMond picked up some time on the 4 breakaways, he was now 10 minutes, 9 seconds behind Bauer. Fignon, again unable to ride well, abandoned. The important news of the time trial was that the 4 stage-1 breakaways had ridden credible time trials. The closest rider to the top 4 was Raul Alcala and he was still over 7 minutes behind Bauer.
Stage 10, with its finish at the Le Bettex ski station, saw the first casualty of the Gang of Four. Bauer finished fiftieth, 4 minutes, 7 seconds behind stage winner Thierry Claveyrolet who had taken off early in search of Hot Spot sprint points and then stayed away to the finish. Behind, on the final climb, an aggressive Delgado blew up the chasing group but wasn't able to gain more than 19 seconds on the other contenders. More importantly for the moment, Bauer had come in behind Pensec and Chiappucci. The pair finished in the LeMond group which included Rooks, Alcala, Gianni Bugno, Miguel Indurain and Andy Hampsten. The Yellow Jersey was now the property of LeMond's teammate Ronan Pensec.
LeMond continued to chew away at the deficit in little bites. Stage 11 crossed the Glandon, the Madeleine and finished atop L'Alpe d'Huez. Gianni Bugno and LeMond finished with the same time, with Erik Breukink just off their wheels. Pensec lost 48 seconds and Chiappucci lost 1 minute, 48 seconds. Pensec was still in Yellow with an increased lead over Chiappucci.
Stage 11: Bugno (on right) throws his bike and just beats LeMond.
The standings after the major Alpine climbing was finished:
- 1. Ronan Pensec
- 2. Claudio Chiappucci @ 1 minute 28 seconds
- 3. Greg LeMond @ 9 minutes 4 seconds
Stage 12 is where it starts to get really interesting. The 33.5-kilometer individual time trial included a second category climb and ended Ronan Pensec's hopes of taking the Yellow Jersey to Paris. Erik Breukink continued to display his fine form by winning the stage with Delgado only 30 seconds back. LeMond was fifth at 56 seconds. Chiappucci showed he was made of stern stuff with an eighth place, 1 minute, 5 seconds behind Breukink and only 9 seconds slower then LeMond. Pensec was forty-ninth at 3 minutes, 50 seconds. That at least ended any split ambitions in the team. Pensec was now riding for LeMond.
The General Classification at this point:
- 1. Claudio Chiappucci
- 2. Ronan Pensec @ 1 minute 17 seconds
- 3. Erik Breukink @ 6 minutes 55 seconds
- 4. Greg LeMond @ 7 minutes 27 seconds
- 5. Pedro Delgado @ 9 minutes 2 seconds
Chiappucci had the Yellow Jersey and the Tour had a day of rest. Keeping the Yellow Jersey would be a real challenge as Breukink, Delgado, LeMond, Hampsten and the others with high General Classification ambitions continued their bellicosity when the race resumed. The very next day into the Massif Central, stage 13, Chiappucci missed the crucial break that included LeMond, Breukink, and Delgado, and lost almost 5 minutes. Doing a lot of the chasing himself, Chiappucci had at one point closed to within 33 seconds. But getting almost no help from the other teams, making contact with the talented riders ahead of him was an almost impossible task. Well, he was the Yellow Jersey and it wasn't the job of the other teams to defend it for him.
Breukink, who was having the Tour of his life, had pulled within 2 minutes, 2 seconds of Chiappucci, and LeMond was just a tad further back at 2 minutes, 34 seconds. If LeMond wanted the win, he had to get by both Chiappucci and a beautifully riding Erik Breukink.
In stage 14 Breukink and LeMond took a small bite out of Chiappucci, about 10 seconds. If they could keep up the pressure, the small Italian would just bleed little dabs of time all over France. Would Chiappucci run out of Tour before he ran out of time?
Stage 16 to Luz Ardiden with the Aspin and the Tourmalet in the middle decided the Tour and showed that both LeMond and Chiappucci were athletes worthy of admiration.
Chiappucci decided on a gigantic roll of the dice. He couldn't let LeMond and Breukink continue to ride their race, forcing him to give up time each stage. He attacked as soon as the race hit the first major climb, the Aspin, taking 6 others with him. Again Chiappucci was stuck, being forced to do all the work. He took off and was first over the summit, 34 seconds ahead of the first group. Chiappucci pressed on and by the time he was halfway up the Tourmalet he had extended his lead to 3 minutes, 20 seconds. LeMond grew alarmed. If Chiappucci held this much lead by the end of the day he would probably be able to withstand any assault LeMond could mount with only 1 mountain stage and 1 time trial left.
LeMond dropped all but Delgado and Indurain as he attacked to get back on terms with the small, tough Italian. By distancing himself from Breukink at this point, he potentially eliminated his only other real threat.
LeMond did a kamikaze descent, making up a whole minute, and closed the gap to Chiappucci. There was now a small group in the lead that included Indurain, Fabio Parra and Marino Lejarreta. On the final climb to Luz Ardiden, after riding hard at the front as long as he could, Chiappucci had to surrender when Fabio Parra attacked. LeMond and Indurain were among the small group who went with Parra. Near the finish Indurain attacked and LeMond had to let him go.
Indurain won the stage with LeMond only 6 seconds back. Chiappucci came in fourteenth, 2 minutes, 25 seconds behind Indurain. That left Chiappucci with only a 5-second lead, a very slim hold on the Yellow Jersey with a time trial coming up.
The last stage in the mountains with the Aubisque and the Marie-Blanque changed nothing at the top of the standings. Breukink, LeMond and Chiappucci finished with the same time. LeMond had a scare, however. On the Marie-Blanque Chiappucci and Delgado attacked. Seconds later LeMond flatted. He got a slow wheel change and then had to change his bike. With the 2 challengers up the road, LeMond chased with a surprising fury. His descent down the mountain was frighteningly fast. LeMond was a truly skilled descender and this time he put those abilities to use. The race marshal on the motor bike said that he had never seen a descent like LeMond's that day. Up ahead Chiappucci had 4 Carrera teammates helping him while further back the 4 "Z" riders who were with LeMond could mostly just hang on while the World Champion blasted down the road. Eventually contact was made and LeMond made known his displeasure with the others that their forcing an attack while he was getting a repair was not sportsmanlike. Later LeMond said that he truly feared at that moment that the race was lost.
Stage 17: Dimitri Konishev wins in Pau, just 1 second ahead of Johan Bruyneel.
With some good fortune and some smart riding, LeMond had things where he wanted them. He was to face a man with a 5-second lead who never shown any special flair for riding against the clock.
The stage 20 45.5-kilometer individual time trial played out exactly as LeMond had hoped and Chiappucci had dreaded.
- 1. Eric Breukink: 1 hour 2 minutes 40 seconds
- 2. Raul Alcala @ 28 seconds
- 3. Marino Lejarreta @ 38 seconds
- 4. Miguel Indurain @ 40 seconds
- 5. Greg LeMond @ 57 seconds
- 17. Claudio Chiappucci @ 3 minutes 18 seconds
LeMond had won his third Tour, this time without ever winning a stage.
The final 1990 Tour de France General Classification:
- 1. Greg LeMond (Z): 90 hours 43 minutes 20 seconds
- 2. Claudio Chiappucci (Carrera) @ 2 minutes 16 seconds
- 3. Erik Breukink (PDM) @ 2 minutes 29 seconds
- 4. Pedro Delgado (Banesto) @ 5 minutes 1 second
- 5. Marino Lejarreta (ONCE) @ 5 minutes 5 seconds
- 1. Thierry Claveyrolet: 321 points
- 2. Claudio Chiappucci: 179 points
- 3. Roberto Conti: 160 points
- 1. Olaf Ludwig: 256 points
- 2. Johan Museeuw: 221 points
- 3. Erik Breukink: 118 points
There was an interesting addition to this Tour. A team of Soviet riders sponsored by Alfa-Lum came and did very well. Dmitri Konyshev won stage 17. Two other riders on this team would make a serious impression on the European pro circuit over time: Piotr Ugrumov and Djamolodine Abdoujaparov. East German Olaf Ludwig, riding for Panasonic, won the Green Jersey. Alcala's stage 7 time trial victory was the first Tour stage win by a Mexican. Times were changing.
More than 1 writer at the time speculated that if Miguel Indurain had ridden for himself instead of for Delgado, he probably would have won the Tour. Who knows?
1991. The Story of the 1991 Tour de France has been moved to the 1991 Tour results page.
1992. The Story of the 1992 Tour de France has been moved to the 1992 Tour results page.
1993. The Story of the 1993 Tour de France has been moved to the 1993 Tour results page.
1994. The Story of the 1994 Tour de France has been moved to the 1994 Tour results page.
1995. The Story of the 1995 Tour de France has been moved to the 1995 Tour results page.
1996. The Story of the 1996 Tour de France has been moved to the 1996 Tour results page.
1997. The Story of the 1997 Tour de France has been moved to the 1997 Tour results page.
1998. The story of the 1998 Tour de France has been moved to the 1998 Tour results page.
1999. The story of the 1999 Tour de France has been moved to the 1999 Tour results page.