Nationality: United States
Tour wins: 1986, 1989, 1990
Lance Armstrong blazed a trail for cycling in the United States, and his incredible story made the hitherto clandestine world of the Tour accessible to all. But Armstrong was not the first American to conquer the great race. Greg LeMond, born in Nevada in 1961, was US cycling's own Neil Armstrong, boldly going where only European riders had gone before.
"Greg LeMond has all the physical qualities needed to win the Tour. But he doesn't have the mindset of a winner." So said LeMond's former teammate Laurent Fignon (twice a Tour winner, in 1983 and 1984) only days before the 1986 Tour began.
At that time, LeMond had two Tours under his belt. He finished third in 1984 - a superb debut - in support of Fignon, then went one better in 1985, finishing runner-up to team-mate Bernard Hinault.
In both races, however, the young Nevadan was tasked with the often-fruitless job of support rider - simply put, he wasn't allowed to win, especially in '85 when his team ordered him to play second fiddle to Hinault, even though his immense talent was obvious for all to see.
But in 1986, fired up by the frustration of watching Fignon and then Hinault climb to the top of the podium, LeMond came into his own, proving Fignon wrong. He won the Tour that year, and it was a remarkable victory under stressful circumstances.
Hinault was again LeMond's team-mate but the wily Frenchman undermined the young American at every opportunity, attacking him relentlessly, reneging on pre-Tour promises that he would repay LeMond for his staunch support in 1985. But LeMond had the beating of an ageing Hinault and won by a margin of more than three minutes.
A freak hunting accident in the spring of 1987, in which LeMond was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law whilst on a turkey shoot, robbed him of the chance to defend his title, and he missed the Tours of 1987 and 1988; he would have been a strong favourite to win both.
He returned to action in 1989, winning the most dramatic Tour in history by a margin of eight seconds from Fignon, thanks to a stunning ride in the final stage's time trial in which he overturned a 50-second deficit to his old foe.
Riding as leader of the powerful Z team, LeMond won his third and final Tour a year later, despite not winning a single stage. He retired from racing four years later, left to wonder if the fates robbed him of an even greater Tour record than the wins he achieved in 1986, 1989 and 1990.
LeMond believes to this day he could have won five or even six Tours - there's little doubt he was a good enough all-round rider to do so.
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