Author's note: I had planned a different post for today. Alas, the sad news of Laurent Fignon's death preempts more trivial musings.
In 1989 I was one of (maybe) 15 other people in the United States who cared.
I watched this, enraptured:
We celebrated Greg LeMond's incredible victory. The comeback. The impossibility of those eight seconds. The shotgun pellets in his heart's lining. It was an American story with an American hero, defeating some damned foreigner.
|Nous étions jeunes et insouciants ("We were young and carefree")|
The story appealed to our American virtues—work ethic, innovation, humility, family—and one of our great vices—jingoism.
Yet, vices aside, it was impossible to not sympathize with the man who was beaten; for Laurent Fignon was a champion. A champion's champion.
No shrinking violet, he was the perfect, media-made foil for the aw-gee-shucks child of the American West that was Greg LeMond. Fignon looked the part: he was "continental", "euro", and "sophisticated". Her personified panache. Nicknamed "The Professor", he was bespectacled—favoring not-quite-round lenses—with a streaming, blond ponytail, pulled back from his receding hairline. Fignon was debonair. He instantly stood out—even within the peloton of the 1980s.
|Fignon: a studious, stylish champion|
His approach—however unsavory in these days of the Contador/Schleck lovefest—was effective, as his results testify. His palmarès? Outstanding:
- Tour de France (1983, 1984)
- Giro d'Italia (1989)
- Milan - San Remo (1988, 1989)
- La Fleche Wallonne (1986)
- Criterium International (1982 and 1990)
- among others...
You know he fought his cancer with the same tenacity.
Fignon disclosed in June 2009 that he was undergoing treatment for cancer. It is said to have started in his intestine and then spread further through his body. He continued to commentate for French television on the Tour de France this summer despite a tumour affecting his vocal chords.
In this book, "We Were Young and Carefree", Fignon admitted that he had used amphetamines and cortisone during his career. To me, it's interesting, but not surprising, and certainly within cycling's long history of improving performance through the transforming power of chemistry. I do not think it diminishes his legacy. Considering the way the cycling culture embraces and celebrates Tom Simpson's death on Ventoux, it would be churlish to dismiss Fignon as anything less than a champion.
In both 2009 and 2010, despite his treatments, Fignon remained a Tour de France commentator for France Television. In one of his public statements about his cancer, he declared:
“I don’t want to die at 50,” he said, earlier this summer. “All I know is that my cancer isn’t evolving. I’m still fighting.”He died at age 50.
Rest peacefully, M. Fignon. And many thanks for the memories.