Bicyclist: Have you been able to synthesize cycling skills with automotive racing? (LeMond races the Formula Ford 2000 series. -Ed.)
LeMond: The way your brain processes information, such as looking at the lines through corners, carries over. On an intuitive level, I'm able to use skills I learned in cycling, although many of the guys I race now have more than ten years experience, giving them practical knowledge in other areas.
Bicyclist: Were you interested in automotive racing as a child?
LeMond: No, not at all. Living in Europe, I drove fast everywhere I went and always enjoyed driving. Even when I retired from cycling, I hadn't planned to take such an interest in cars. What really started it was when my partner talked me into taking driving school at Sears Point. First we went through three days of skill classes, and then later, when we began applying the skills to driving, I started to get hooked. One of the things that interested me was the level of communication between the driver and the crew (or engineer). If you're going hard into a turn and the rear left corner of your car starts floating, you have to be able to convey that information clearly to the engineer, so he can decide how to cure the problems, such as stiffening the suspension in certain places.
Bicyclist: Once you learned enough skills to race cars competitively, did you find that it helped satisfy some of the competitive void that existed after retiring from racing?
LeMond: I'm passionate about the things I do, not exactly compulsivewell, maybe a little compulsive. In cycling, you had to be passionate and compulsive. You raced 100 days a year and had to train 340 days a year, so you had to have that sort of passion. I love the weekend of a car race; in many ways, it reminds me of bike racing, it's stimulating, there's a goal to set, you have to consider your competition. But even when I'm racing a lot, it doesn't take the same passion that cycling professionally requires. When I raced, I rarely had time to do anything but train. Whereas I can race cars seriously and still find time to do things with my children, or go on vacation.
Bicyclist: Do you have major goals with your car racing career?
LeMond: I get asked that all the time. This is really only my second year of racing. While I attended race school and raced a few weekends the year before that, that hardly amounts to a year of racing. So last year was my first real year of racing. Last year I had some bad luck, inexperience and car problems, so I finished the year a little frustrated, feeling that I was capable of better. When I started testing the equipment this year, I did some really fast testing, running at the same speeds as the guys who were competitors in the series last year, which was really encouraging. This year I have been competitive in the first couple races [at the time of his interview, LeMond had won the pole position, at a Long Beach race.] I think I have some talent; I'm approaching it seriously, but it's a different sport than cycling, in the sense that if you approach cycling from a serious point of view that means that it has to consume your life. Every waking moment of your life is focused on cycling in one way or another. If you're not actually on the bike training, then you're consciously resting, to recover for the next training ride, so that you'll always improve your condition for races. With car racing, even if you're 100% focused on the sport, you simply can't test that often. If you do fifteen or twenty days of testing in addition to the race series, that's a lot. So while I'm extremely interested in putting as much time as possible into it as possible, it simply isn't the same as cycling. I can't test the car everyday because of costs, and I'm not really interested in rebuilding the engine myself, so there's only so much time I can put into increasing my skill.
Bicyclist: Is it a relief to not have to dedicate so much of your time to a sport?
LeMond: Well, I am 36 years old, going on 37, and have a wife and three kids. I also have a bike business, along with other business interests, and all these things occupy quite a bit of time.
Bicyclist: Since retiring, you've been able to diversify your life then?
LeMond: Well, I don't mean to suggest that I'm not completely dedicated to car racing. At this point, there's just no way I can spend more time improving my form. If car racing allowed testing 50 times a season, I'd be out there. Still, the F2000 series I'm doing right now is probably one of the most competitive open-wheel series in the country, besides Indy car and maybe Indy Lights, but in a way it's every bit as competitive as Indy Lights, also. It's a lower cost series, but it's still the best training ground to learn the vehicle dynamics, the shock work, the wing work. The cars are very equal in terms of horsepower. It really comes down to how well you engineer the car and that's what you have to learn to go to higher levels. So I'm in the best learning area. Generally, I'm the type of personality, where I do want to excel and see how far I can take it. I wouldn't be doing this series if I was just going to be doing it for fun. So, in truth, I guess I do want to see what I can accomplish. It would be fun to see how far I could go in another sport?
Bicyclist: There's an old story that, as a teenager, you wrote a list of goals on a sheet of paper which you stored in your desk, which stated that you wanted to win the Olympics, the world championships and the Tour de France. Of course, the Olympics were boycotted the year you qualified ('80). Otherwise, the remaining goals are now recorded history. Did you have such a paper in your desk? And if so, is there another such paper stored away listing your car racing goals?
LeMond: Yes, the list of cycling goals is true. But no, I don't have a list of car racing goals. [LeMond pauses, then laughs.] I think that sort of blind faith is only possible when you're young. It's interesting to look back, though, and see why athletes are so good at a young age. It's not what they do with their bodies, it relates more to their drive and determination. Plus they haven't been set back by harsh experiences. Of course, in car racing it could actually help to be older and wiser. You can't be overaggressive all the time in car racing. It might help you win once in a while, but if you do it consistently, you'll find yourself always crashing. In my case, though, I had such determination and drive for cycling that I don't think I could equal the amount of intensity that I put into cycling in anything else. People sometimes ask why I don't do triathlons or another hard endurance sport. There's no way I could duplicate the intensity of my cycling career. I believe you can only find that sort of dedication in one fairly short time frame in your life. Of course, some people go through a midlife crisis and rekindle it. For me, though, the bottom line was always competition. I love competition, I like racing, and that's what drove me in bike racing. It wasn't the training and the riding. After all, once you get past a two or three hour bike ride it doesn't become much fun. The goal for me in training was always just to get in better shape to race. Some people get into biking because they like riding, but you'll find that the best riders get in racing mostly because they like the challenge of competition.
Bicyclist: Speaking of competitive racers, when you heard about Lance Armstrong's brush with cancer and, more recently, his attempt to come back, did you empathize with him because of the parallels to your own life-threatening experience?
LeMond: Yes. It's tragic, especially for someone in the prime of their career. It's what happened to me and my career. I did write him a letter immediately when I found out, but he's a fairly private guy, so we haven't talked at length about it. Plus there's the fact that he was so often compared to me at the beginning of his career that I think he may have resented that. Living in a country that has produced only a few good riders, anybody that achieves any success becomes 'the next LeMond.' It must get tiring after a while. In a country like Italy such comparisons would never happen. The hard part for Lance now is the actual comeback. I really don't how he's taking it. I've read that he might retire, and then later that he'll continue on.
Bicyclist: He has a wife now and the prospect of being with her seemed to draw him back home last spring from the miserable weather of the Paris-Nice.
LeMond: The lifestyle, racing in the cold rain and living from day to day between motel rooms can be brutal-it's the toughest sport in the world. Lance went through chemo, then he had a year off where he realized how nice life is in America. I'm telling you, life is good here. I unwisely rushed right back into racing six months later. I was shot in April and I was back in September. I really should have had more of a program like Lance. He was advised properly by medical doctors. My haematocrit [percentage of packed red blood to the volume of whole blood] went down to about 19. Nearly sixty percent of my blood volume was gone and that takes months to get back. I remember going back to Europe at the end of August and only being able to make it one mile into a race. I was doing it because my contract with PDM was contingent that I would start racing again in '88. Plus my contract with La Vie Claire required that I race X number of days in '87; if I hadn't raced again that year they would have been able to cancel my contract. So I was forced to go back.
Bicyclist: In that sense, you feel Lance was able to spend more time recovering?
LeMond: I don't mean that I wasn't given a chance to recover so much as I never really got to sit back and enjoy life during my few months away. In Lance's case, it's pretty hard to spend a year in Austin and then have to go back to the harsh reality of racing. After getting out of the hospital, I'm guessing that for the first time in probably about five years, he actually enjoyed his life. Had I had that much time to think about whether to go back and race again, you never knowThe two years I had coming back from '87 'til I won the Tour de France in '89, there wasn't a single day that the thought didn't go through my mind that maybe I should stop this sport. I was humiliated. On the other hand, Lance has already come back to a very high level. In February he raced Ruta del Sol, and I'll tell you, it's a hard race, and he still pulled off a 15th place overall. At this point, he might only lack recovery. I feel that he has to give himself a full year of racing before he can expect any consistency. It's the hardest sport to come back in. You can't compare it with golf, basketball, or football. When you have something as minor as a cold in cycling, you're off the back.
Bicyclist: Prior to your own bodily injury, you went through another trauma earlier in your career. If you don't object to talking about Bernard Hinault, there still seems to be some interest in learning exactly what happened between you two in the '85 Tour, and then again in '86, when Hinault, as your teammate, attacked you while you were wearing the yellow jersey. Was it a devastating moment when Hinault attacked you after apparently agreeing to work for you after helping him win his fifth Tour?
LeMond: It almost burned me out of cycling, that little episode. In a way, it probably led to my hunting accident, because I didn't even feel like racing the following year.
Bicyclist: You had lost your faith in the loyalty of teammates?
LeMond: Yeah, it was like being burned by your brother. The thing is that Hinault wasn't your typical teammate. He was a guy I idolized.
Bicyclist: Was it Hinault that paved your way to Europe, when he showed up on your doorstep in Reno?
LeMond: It was actually Cyrille Guimard who paved the way, but yes, Hinault was there on the team and came to America with Guimard. He also happened to be the most dominant rider in cycling at the time.
Bicyclist: Did Hinault, nonetheless, take you in as a big brother would?
LeMond: Yes, without question. He was great up until the '85 Tour and even then I didn't really think of him as the fault, it was the team, Bernard Tapie and the coach, because Hinault was just riding as hard as he could the day he got dropped in the '85 Tour.
Bicyclist: And then the coach came up in the car and told you to slow down and wait for Hinault?
LeMond: Yes, but they lied to me. I had about a three to four minute lead on him at that point, but I thought I only had about 45 seconds. Every time I asked them exactly how much time I had they'd evade the answer, telling me Hinault was in the group right behind me. Then when the pack of riders came up with Sean Kelly and Phil Anderson, guys who I climbed much better than, Hinault was still nowhere in sight.
Bicyclist: So you had to wait even longer?
LeMond: Well, what happened from the beginning is that Paul Keochli (my coach) came up and started talking to me, saying 'You cannot ride with Roche, you can't attack. Hinault's coming up. You need to wait for him. We want to insure our first and second place.' We started arguing, me saying, 'Well, how far back is he?' But he wouldn't tell me, and then eventually he said forty or forty-five seconds. And as we're sitting there arguing, Luis Herrara rides up the road. If you look at the results from that year, Herrara wasn't climbing any better than I was. So we keep arguing and finally I decide, okay, I'll wait. By now, all the momentum of our strong break had been lost because of the argument. So I waited. Roche had been sitting their listening to the entire argument, and of course he's more or less the enemy. He was in third and wanted to keep that place secure. I'm thinking, 'Jesus!, we've blown this entire chance!' I wait and I wait and I wait. A group of about sixteen or eighteen riders come up, and Hinault's not there. He's still another minute and a half behind that group. By the time I finished the stage, he was still a minute and 15 seconds down and I'd waited minutes for him! It wasn't until that big group came to me that I really got pissed, when I realized Hinault wasn't there and that he was even farther down the climb behind guys that were sprinters! In a way, Hinualt should not have won that Tour. It doesn't matter if he's the strongest the first week, that doesn't make a difference. It's who's the strongest over three weeks. If he had a bad day, that's part of it-he didn't deserve to win the '85 Tour. At the hotel, they made all these promises for the following year, but still said, 'You have to help Hinault the next day.' I wasn't mad at Hinault. I wasn't pissed at him at all. Hinault wasn't telling them what to do. It was Bernard Tapie's and Paul Keochli's conspiracy to make sure Hinault won his fifth Tour. So they promised that no matter what, even if Hinault was in the very best shape the following year, he would work for me. That's why I was so irritated the following year when he totally tried screwing me. But I don't blame him. Well, I blame him because he wouldn't have won his fifth Tour if I hadn't slowed down. But the fact that he did, he was going for his sixth. He didn't care about me.
Bicyclist: Did that final instance affect your friendship?
LeMond: Yes, we basically became non-friend's after that attack. But I'm pretty neutral about my feelings with Hinault, now. These things happened so many years ago, that I harbor no ill feeling toward him. At the same time, I have to admit, I've probably only exchanged thirty words with him in the last decade. But if I saw him, I'd talk to him; I'd be friends with him. It's still vivid in my mind, though. The battles we went through in '86 seem like yesterday. The only thing that remains irritating is that I'm sometimes not given full credit for my '86 Tour. If I analyze the '86 Tour, I beat Hinault who was probably as strong that year as he had ever been. In reality, I should have won the time-trials, too. That was the most deceptive thing about that Tour. I flatted and broke a wheel in the first time-trial, so he beat me by forty-seconds, making him think that he was stronger, when, in fact, I lost over a minute and a half due to mechanicals, having to stop and change a wheel, and then, later, having the bent wheel rubbing on the brakes for the final ten kilometers. In Europe, even to this day, the big question is 'Did Hinault give LeMond that Tour? Did he ride against me or for me?' That he rode so aggressively against me did help in a way, since it was clear he was trying to win, but the skeptics will always wonder. Let me just tell you, I would have loved to have been on a different team and been able to go head to head with him, instead of having to figure out how to politely win the race. It was actually very political. I mean, he was a French hero, at least as popular as Michael Jordan is in this country. And to be an American in France going against him[his voice trails off].
Bicyclist: Barring your hunting accident, do you feel like your were capable of joining the ranks of riders like Hinualt and Indurain? Do you feel that you could have won five Tours?
LeMond: Well, look at the facts. I have three Tour victories. I gave away '85 Tour. I was out because of an accident during the two prime years of my career, '87 and '88, which were two of the easiest years to win the Tour in that period. I mean if you're in the thick of racing, you understand the hierarchy. During those two years, Hinault was out, Fignon was out. Put it this way, in '89 and '90 I only feel like I raced to 90 to 95 percent of my potential. In '86 I was much stronger, climbed much faster, much better time-trialist. When we would do the time-trials, Hinault and I would finish two to three minutes up on most people. And you have to remember that in cycling, every year you make minute improvements. In '86 I wasn't out of the top five stage races from February to September. Of course you can't rewrite racing history, but I'm confident that I would have won five Tours.
Bicyclist: Will your disease affect your future in any way? Is much known about mitochondrial myopathy [a degenerative muscle disease that prevents the body from properly disposing of lactic acid]?
LeMond: No, nobody knows anything about the disease. I've heard so many variations of it. People get it as an adult and start to feel more tired, and then ten years later, they're in a wheelchair. Then I've heard of people who have it that couldn't exercise as a kid, but now they exercise and they feel fine. Nobody really knows. It's always in the back of my mind. When I do get tired from exercising, I ask myself, 'Am I tired just because I exercised, or is it the disease?'
Bicyclist: How, exactly, does one learn whether they have mitochondrial myopathy?
LeMond: They do a muscle biopsy and then examine it with an electron microscope x-ray, at which point they can see if you have red ragged fibers, which are basically crystallized mitochondria, which do not produce AT (adenosine triphosphate, the basic fuel source on the cellular level). It's pretty clear as to whether you have it or not. There's no subjective interpretation. It's either you have it or you don't. I haven't had a biopsy since I retired. I did an EMG in October; it showed that I still have roughly the same level of the disease as three years ago. But the doctor also said that an EMG isn't accurate enough to detect whether it's actually progressed. To learn that would require another biopsy. The problem is that if it's progressed more, there's nothing they can do about it, so I don't really want to know.
Bicyclist: You recently participated in the Vietnam Challenge. Other than social functions, do you still ride a bike recreationally?
LeMond: Yes. I try to ride three or four days a week. I like riding.
Bicyclist: Mountain bike, or road bike?
LeMond: Usually road. When I was in Phoenix recently, I rode a mountain bike for ten days in a row. But in Minneapolis, the mountain biking isn't that great. I don't want to drive to trails to ride. I just like jumping on the bike.
Bicyclist: You must create quite a stir when you go riding.
LeMond: I don't really see people riding that often in Minneapolis. I pass a few riders every now and then, but I don't know if they can tell it's me. I'm a little bigger than I used to be. I also lift weights regularly, so my muscle mass is heavier.
Bicyclist: Was there a point right after you retired that you hung the bicycle up completely?
LeMond: I never planned on not riding. But when they did a biopsy in '94, they wanted me to take off 4 or 5 months of total inactivity, no riding, no exercise, no nothing. When you do that you totally lose your conditioning. So I did that and it had an effect. It was hard to adjust to riding again after being so out of shape. I ended up riding a little bit in '95, a little bit in '96, then last year I rode a little more, and this year I'm trying to ride three or four times a week. My problem is that I travel so much that I get into decent shape and then I go away for two weeks and don't do anything on the road.
Bicyclist: When you go out by yourself on a 25 mile ride or such, do you sometimes push it?
LeMond: That's my biggest problem. I always train hard. I can't ride easy. I really need to build up a base. One problem with the disease is that you produce a little more lactic acid, so I can't tolerate high-intensity as much as I used to. I have to get used to those hard efforts. Last year I trained hard for about three weeks, and then I got so tired I couldn't ride for another month. I'm trying to get it where I'm riding easier and a little bit longer.
Bicyclist: Do you keep up with the sport at all, whether American or European cycling?
LeMond: It's really hard to. The problem is that I never kept up with it when I was cycling, so it's hard to keep up with it when you're not cycling.[laughing]
Bicyclist: Have there been any riders that have caught your eye in the last few years?
LeMond: I am watching it a little bit more, I suppose. I watched the Tour last year and watched the year Riis won and Ullrich was second. Ullrich definitely catches my eye. I think the guy definitely has some talent. But I've been impressed with the American riders, Bobby Julich and Kevin Livingston. Julich recently finished second in Criterium International. That's a hard race! He's turning out to be a great rider. I think he'll have a career like Andy Hampsten. Andy kind of took a while to get used to going over to Europe and staying. When he came over in '86, he decided he'd only race for six to eight weeks and then he'd want to go back to America. Then in '87, he went back and forth, and then, later, finally stayed. Once you taste the level of competition in Europe, it's very hard to come back and race. I think with Julich and a couple of the guys, they know that when you race full time in Europe, you know you're a special athlete. You know that very few people could do this. And it is that much harder than anything in America. I said when I won the Tour duPont in '92 that if I'd raced the Tour of Romandie, I'd have been lucky to crack the top thirty, yet I won the Tour duPont. When you're over in Europe everything's just so different. Certain riders thrive on it and certain riders can't do it, it's just too hard for them, but Bobby Julich is obviously one of the riders that's thriving on it. Andy Hampsten eventually got to that point where he raced in Europe, came back to America and realized he was going nowhere in America, so he went back. Now he's living in Europe in retirement! That's a big change for me. I mean, I like Europe, but, boy, I like America.
Bicyclist: So you don't miss Europe terribly?
LeMond: Nooooo. I don't miss it at all. I like the lifestyle of France, I like the people, but I don't like the traveling, I don't like the jet lag.
Bicyclist: Do you think the sport of professional cycling has changed since you retired?
LeMond: Well, I have to laugh. There's a rider that was on the U.S. Postal Service, an American rider that had never raced in Europe, who told me how much cycling has changed in the three or four years since I retired, how much harder and faster it's gotten. As he's telling me this, I'm thinking, 'Is this guy trying to insult me?' [laughing] The best part about it was that he went and raced in Moline, Illinois and Jeff Bradley [a friend who competed on the amateur national team with LeMond, as well as professionally with 7-Eleven], who's been retired ten years, trained only 900 base miles before this race to get back into shape. No more. And then Jeff finished 8th or 9th, and this guy finished behind him. And the Postal rider is a pro! How do you judge that it's changed? There's no way. The talent hasn't changed at all. I do think, however, that the Italians have changed the sport in a really bad way. It has become much more medical. There's no doubt that riders are probably fitter now at the beginning of the season. But that started in the mid '80s.
LeMond: Yes, medical.
LeMond: [hesitates] I don't know that it's drugs exactly...
Bicyclist: Then let me restate the question. Do you feel that drug use is prevalent in the pro peloton?
LeMond: Well, it's hard to say. I don't know if it's drugs, but there are substances. I don't know that I buy the excuse by people who say they didn't perform well in a one-day race because the winners were on drugs. In a one-day race, there's no reason you cannot perform as well as someone taking drugs. EPO (Erythropoeitin, a naturally-ocurring and synthesized hormone that increases red blood cell count) just increases your red blood cells. Here in America you can train at altitude any time you want and get the same benefit from altitude as from EPO. Steroids, on the other hand, accelerate recovery. I went steroid free throughout my whole career. There were always rumors of guys taking stuff, but more than steroids it was the cortisone, the catabolic, not the anabolic. Of course there were tests, and people have been caught with testosterone. The Italians, somewhere in the '80s, figured out how to take small amounts to be on the legal side of it, which does help recovery and would help tremendously in a three week race. I've heard two sides of the drug issue. First of all, you have to understand the doping mentality. I don't think there's a rider in the peloton that prefers to take drugs. It's simply what doing to keep up with competition, and if they think everyone's getting away with it, they feel like they need to use it, too. Half of these guys haven't finished high school, have a wife and three kids at home, and if they don't perform, they won't get paid. The problem with Americans is that our ethics are sometimes a bit nave-don't get me wrong, the American ethic is really good, I like the American attitude, but it doesn't really bite into the reality of situation. I know my old teammate, Eric Boyer, retired because he didn't want to touch the stuff, and I know many other people who made it through clean, such as Andy Hampsten and Steve Bauer. Every rider on La Vie Claire was clean, that was Paul Keochli's big deal to make sure he had a clean team. But I do know in the early '90s there was a huge movement in Italy. Riders that had been racing for six or seven years were suddenly riding really well. To me, that looks a little suspicious. The drug issue is something I often thought about during my career. Toward the end, I always wondered, 'Is everyone taking drugs, while I stay clean, causing me to perform so poorly?' But there wasn't a drug in the world that would've helped me. One thing I do know is that a teammate of mine went to an Italian team and he died of a heart attack a year later. It was a little disappointing. I do think the riders are trying to say, 'Hey, we're for control testing.' The riders are the ones who pushed for the haematocrit level tests, so people would stay within the limits.
Bicyclist: Looking back on your career, you have many major victories, from the very beginning as a junior, right on through to the end. Nonetheless, is there a particular victory, a milestone in your career, that you cherish above the others?
LeMond: With no doubt, there was nothing sweeter than coming back from a near death experience [the hunting accident] to winning the Tour two years later, especially when only two months prior I'd seriously considered quitting the sport completely. I'm so glad I didn't quit.
Bicyclist: In a sense, the '89 Tour, then, proved to be a moment of vindication?
LeMond: It was, but it was still hard, since most of the European press still didn't understand the extent of my accident two years earlier. It seems like most of the Europeans view the hunting incident as a minor gun accident. Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle, my teammate, got shot, also. But the bullet only penetrated his hand, and he had surgery on it. By comparison, I had pellets that went straight through me, I still have five in the lining of my heart, five in my liver, and my spine. I lost 25 pounds of muscle mass, lost 60 percent of my blood volume. I was fifteen minutes away from dying. When we did finally hold a press conference, the doctors said, 'Oh he's fine, he'll be back racing.' So the Europeans assumed that I didn't really have such a bad accident. When I did come back to Europe, there was absolutely no sympathy. Every time I raced poorly the press ridiculed me for lacking motivation, and not training hard. That pretty much became the story of the last four years of my career. The press would say, 'Look, he's gained ten pounds. He doesn't want to train anymore.'
Bicyclist: Was your World Championship victory right after the '89 Tour unexpected, or was it a goal prior to the race?
LeMond: I was feeling great for the entire month after the Tour. The Worlds, every year, was my goal. But, of course, when you're racing, you still want to race well at all the other races. Of course, that brings up an entirely different question that remains, even to this day, the biggest disappointments in my career. When you talk to fairly knowledgeable journalists in Europe or even people within the sport, they have this idea that all I wanted to do was focus on the Tour and the Worlds. My last two Tour de France victories were miracles. That it took me until July to get back into shape in '89 was partially because it took that long for my body to come back around from the accident. There was no predetermined plan to get into shape for the Tour. If I'd been able to race well in the Paris-Roubaix, I would have. In '89, I wasn't even sure that I'd ever race the Tour again. Then the following year, I had mono for three months before the Tour. Prior to my accident, I was successful from February to September, with results like third at Paris-Nice, second at Milan-San Remo, third in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, third in Paris-Roubaix. I'd only started to figure out the classics in '86. Without the injury, I believe I would have been a good classics rider. I wanted to race hard all season, and kept hoping I would get back to my old self. People forget that in '83 I won the Super Prestige Pernod, which was then the season-long competition, since replaced by the World Cup
Bicyclist: It must be odd knowing that some of those same persons who misinterpret your career are also some of your greatest fans. In a recent interview, Michele Bartoli stated that he had two heroes early in his career, Francesco Moser and LeMond. He went on to say, "I liked LeMond because he saw cycling in a particular way. He had his own personal style. He was one of the first riders to aim and train specifically for certain races. He didn't try and win every race. I think he was very innovative. He taught everybody about modern bike racing."
LeMond: The constant misinterpretation does continue to be the most disappointing aspect. Recently, I saw an interview with Jan Ulrich's coach, in which the interviewer asked whether the 15 to 20 pounds Ullrich had gained over the winter would affect his chances in the Tour, to which the coach responded, 'Oh, I'm not worried. Greg LeMond always gained the same amount.' My biggest winter gain over the years was ten pounds. That's it! I never got over 159 pounds. in the winter during my career. People have such short memories. They look at my last results attained while I was battling to recover from my accident and sum up my career from those two Tour victories.
Bicyclist: As far as the present status of cycling, do you see any major changes, such as mountain biking becoming more popular than road racing?
LeMond: Mountain biking may be more popular in this country, but it will never be more popular than road racing in Europe, there's just too much history in the major road races. In order for a sport to achieve a major status, you need a big venue. Mountain biking will simply never become as popular as road racing in Europe because it doesn't have the Tour de France. In order for mountain biking to become a major sport it will need a single prestigious race, like the Master's tournament in golf, or tennis's Wimbledon. It takes at least 20 or 30 years for an event to reach a legendary status like that. I try to look at the sport of cycling as just cycling, though. Mountain biking's one way to cycle, road riding is another way. I don't like the division of the sports, in the way that snowboarding is to skiing, where I have to declare myself a boarder or a skier. I like to see cycling as a sport in which everybody can ride a different bike. I think road racers should be entering mountain bike races and vice versa.
Bicyclist: Do you ever see road racing finally taking off in the United States, or do you feel it's doomed to its present status?
LeMond: Most likely, doomed to its present status. But I don't really think it's something to be depressed about. I think it may make another grassroots comeback as it did in the '70s and '80s, because people seem to be getting interested in road riding once again. But I don't think you can ever expect it to be like Europe, with three or four races a year like the Tour duPont. Maybe we'll be lucky and the Coors Classic or the Red Zinger will start back up again, and create another revival, but what we really need are guys like Lance Armstrong who are capable of doing well in Europe to proper television coverage on events.
Bicyclist: Few riders have left a legacy in cycling as rich as yours. I'm speaking specifically of your approach toward aerodynamic technology and contract negotiations, both of which proved to be equally innovative. Did you have a sense of the historical impact you would leave on the sport while you were racing, or did such decisions come instinctively?
LeMond: I don't know that I thought of historical implications, but I was aware of the pay structure, which, in Europe, was horrible. Bernard Hinault was getting as much press for Renault as Renault's formula one team, yet they were spending $50 million on the car racing team, and only $2 million on the bike racing team. Hinault, one of the most famous people in France, was only making $150,000 a year, while Alan Prout was making $8 or $9 million a year. There were inequalities that needed addressing. Of course, I always used the opportunity when three or four teams wanted me to make sure I got the most out of it. I wasn't going to live and race in the hardest sport in the world and not get paid. You're literally miserable half of the time. I wasn't going to do that and wind up broke 15 years down the road. My main goal with contracts was always to prepare for the future. As far as the technology, I was lucky that I was always willing to try something, but I don't know that it was exactly luck since I did always have a curiosity for different equipment. From the beginning, I was always interested in my bike. I always wanted a light bike, always wanted good aerodynamics, providing there was some integrity there. Some Americans were into trick stuff, whose benefits were questionable. I didn't just want trick, I wanted it to work. Even my last couple years of racing, I continued to play with it, like a carbon-fiber bike fitted out with titanium components. Even when I was sixteen, I would ride on my rollers and have my mom hold me up, while I tried to make my back as flat as possible, so from the beginning I was interested in aerodynamics. That was what my mindset was. I also had a lot of people who knew that I was into technological innovations, so a lot of stuff would come my way. La Vie Claire was one of the first teams to use heart rate monitors. Moser was the first guy to use a monitor, but Guimard followed his progress. By the time Le Vie Claire started, we used heart rate monitors as the basis for our training program. The most I ever learned about physiology was with Paul Keochli. To this day I think he is the most advanced theoretical trainer. The aero bars were actually brought to me by someone who knew I was interested in trying new things. But I was already aware of them after watching the 7-Eleven team use them at the Tour de Trump, seeing how the bars improved Davis Phinney. We did wind tunnel tests after the Tour, and it turned out that my natural position was already so aerodynamic that those bars only made up about eight seconds, which was enough to win the Tour, but the Giro helmet I used cost me about 12 seconds, because that particular helmet had a lot of room inside which created a sort of parachute drag, so according to the wind tunnel test my victory wasn't only a result of equipment.
Bicyclist: Do you miss bicycle racing?
LeMond: Sometimes, but only at the highest levels. I miss the Tour de France. The year after I retired, I'd have dreams of racing the Tour de France again. Imagine having an auto-race where you race at the top level every day for three weeks straight, on roads from city to city, while the whole country shuts down for the race; where each stage has the same amount of spectators as the Super Bowl. That is the Tour de France. There is nothing like it. Winning the Tour de France, to be at that level, is the best high you can have. And in that sense, it was among the most satisfying things I'll ever do. So I do miss it. But the suffering I endured the last years because of my disease was only a relief to finally be free of.
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