Sunday, 11 December 2011


I used to endure a 10 mile commute by car that would take 1-1.5hrs. I promised myself that I would never work or live in an area that required a commute anywhere near that ridiculous ratio. What's happened in recent years doesn't quite meet with my promise. My commute now is roughly 35-45 minutes and is 12 miles. Thankfully, this time round I have options. Take the car, bike, bus or train are all on the list. I'm also very lucky to be able to share the journey at times with family and friends. The route has wonderful views to enjoy and the changing drama of the sky and light means that there are very rarely two days the same.

When the journey is more of a solitary affair, like most commuters, a book, mag or newspaper keeps me company. The book on the go at the moment is 'We where young and carefree' by Laurent Fignon. He was and still is a hero of mine. I have no embarrassment in admitting that I dreamt of riding in his style when I first grasped the joys of this wonderful sport. I also have no issues with the tears that ran down my cheeks when he lost the Tour by 8 seconds to Greg LeMond. My Dad came into my room wondering what the hell was going on. There I was in a teenage heap, trying to absorb Phil Ligget's words and images from the excellent early days of Channel 4's coverage.

Like most cycling clubs, the evening run was put back so the bunch could watch le Tour highlights before heading out. The Thursday evening run prior to the final time trial was full of Fignon v's Lemond debate, there was quite possibly a wager at stake. I admired LeMond and was always fighting with who I favoured for the 1989 Tour. LeMond had taken a back seat in 1988 due to le Badger and La Vie Claire, surely his time for another win was soon. Fignon had already won two Tours and was one of the most recognisable cyclists on the planet. A third win would put him up there with the legends. In my book, if you have won it once, you are a legend. In the end, my heart lay with Fignon, my head was with LeMond.

One for the next washinglinepost
Fignon's no punches pulled explanation of LeMond in the 1989 Tour is true to his style on the bike - open, attacking and not willing to take prisoners. However, Fignon's account of Lemond also pays tribute to the first American to win Le Tour. His cunning, determination and ability to ride without the aid of a well drilled and capable team playing a major role in Fignon's subtle praise of the cruel 1989 victory. Let's not forget, LeMond rode his first Tour de France in 1984, finishing third in support of his team leader. The team leader was none other than Laurent Fignon. LeMond also finished at the top of young rider classification. A coverted jersey that we know has been worn by many Tour winners.

Fignon's love hate relationship with the press, including the vitriolic French was a way of life. LeMond on the other hand was quickly becoming the comeback kid after his lack lustre season and long recovery from the turkey shooting accident. The bike industry was also acutely aware that technology and marketing where about to take the cycling world by storm. Fignon was the old guard - almost UCI in his take on rules, regulation and progress. Why wear an aero lid, when you can show off your flowing blonde locks? He was also offered a pair of the bars from a supplier. He openly states that the end of 1989 Tour was the changing point for cycling 'The craftsmen where defeated by mass-production. Handmade goods were overwhelmed by factory-made stuff. Individuals were submerged in the anonymous mass. the people's heroes were strangled and the glory of the Giants of the Road trickled away'.

Did LeMond win Le Tour 1989 by tech? Possibly. Did he change the face of cycling? Most definitely! Just look at Scott (did you know his son is called Scott?) and where they are now in the cycling peleton and the trails covered in tell tale signs of knobbly tyres. Riders have ridden their bikes to great victories, thousands are spent and dreams are played out every weekend on their frames. How did a company better known for winter sports kit make inroads to cycling? LeMond and those bars certainly have something to do with it. The bars are credited to US Alpine Ski Team coach, bike racer and inventor Boone Lennon. The next twist was when Charley French rode an early aluminium version at the 1986 Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. His time was a record breaking 12hr 13min, not bad for a 60 year old French also happened to be working as engineer for Scott. The aerobars, not surprisingly, quickly created a following amongst professional triathletes. Lennon is quoted as saying  “Guys who never won before were winning, people they beat would call, and week after week we would do more.”According to French “It’s still the biggest time saving thing you can do to a bicycle". The story goes that when LeMond agreed to have them fitted to his 1989 time trial bike, French personally bent LeMond’s bars into shape,

Charley French - interesting surname...

One of my favourite bikes is a 1996 LeMond Alpe D'Huez. The bike has the classic euro stance with the subtle tweak of LeMond geometry - longer than normal top tube, and very comfy. It is almost a contradiction to what the man is about with his restless quest for marginal gains from exotic material exploration and combining their best properties into one frame.  It is also the bike that I would choose to commute on. You see, this is where the dilemma starts to hit home. Every time I take le Alpe out, I can't help but think of Fignon. Lemond has also caused some controversy in recent years with his allegations and thoughts. I rode the LeMond when Lance Armstrong came to Glasgow for his famous ride out. Prior to the ride, Armstrong signed my hat and we even exchanged a few pleasant words. Would he have been so kind if he'd seen my bike? According to one rider that came along side and said 'Christ, your brave riding that today' he would have told me where to go. That rider was Graeme Obree and I wasn't going to argue.

Dear Santa
I'm positive that more tears will roll when I come to the inevitable end of 'we where young and carefree'. Those tears will quickly dry as images of le Prof in his heyday appear and allow of us to appreciate and celebrate his intelligence and elan.

Allez Allez Fignon!

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