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Laurent Fignon during the 1993 Tour de France
|Full name||Laurent Patrick Fignon|
12 August 1960|
|Died||31 August 2010
Single-Day Races and Classics
|Infobox last updated on
1 September 2010
Laurent Patrick Fignon (12 August 1960 – 31 August 2010) was a French professional road bicycle racer. He won the Tour de France in 1983 and in 1984. He won the Giro d'Italia in 1989, and nearly captured the Tour for a third time that same year before being edged by Greg LeMond by 8 seconds in the final stage time trial, the closest margin ever to decide the Tour. Fignon won many classic races, including taking Milan – San Remo back to back in 1988 and 1989. Fignon died from cancer on 31 August 2010.
Early life and amateur career
Fignon was born in Montmartre, Paris. His family moved to Tournan-en-Brie in 1963, where he lived until he left for Paris at age 23.
His first sport was football and he got as far as playing for his département or area. Friends encouraged him into cycling and he rode his first official race in 1976, which he won. Fignon's parents did not want him to race, and he raced without them knowing. He won four more races in his first year, but only one in his second year. In this third year, he won 18 out of 36 races. Fignon's parents allowed him to race, but still thought that he should study. Fignon entered the University of Villetaneuse, doing Structural and Materials Science. Fignon was not interested in his studies, and was an indifferent student. His chief desire was to pursue cycling. He told his parents that he was leaving the university and would join the army at the end of the year to do his military service He was posted at the Bataillon de Joinville, known for its sporting reputation. After this, Fignon was sure he wanted to pursue a professional career.
In 1981, Fignon rode the Tour of Corsica which allows amateur cyclists to ride along with professional riders. Fignon rode an early stage attempting to hold the wheel of Bernard Hinault, the top professional cyclist, and succeeded for much of the race. Cyrille Guimard observed the young cyclist a few days later at the national 100 km time trial team. In May of 1981 he offered him a place on his Renault-Elf-Gitane professional team to begin the following year. Fignon joined the team in 1982, along with long time friend and fellow junior rider Pascal Jules. Fignon was 21 years of age.
1982: first professional season
In 1982, Fignon rode the 1982 Giro d'Italia. After Fignon broke away in the second stage, he became the leader of the race, and got to wear the pink jersey. He lost the lead in the next stage, but became Hinault's most trusted team mate in the mountains. In Paris–Tours, Fignon had escaped and made a break of 40 seconds, when his crank broke. During this first year as a professional, Fignon won the Critérium National.
1983: first Tour victory
In 1983, Fignon was a part of the team that helped Bernard Hinault to win the 1983 Vuelta a España. Guimard did not want to send Fignon to the Tour de France, because two grand tours could be too much for a 22-year old rider. When Hinault, winner of four of the five previous Tours, announced that he would not start due to injury, the Renault team was without a team captain. Fignon was added to the 1983 Tour de France selection for the Renault team, and the team decided to go for stage wins, with hopes of having Fignon or Marc Madiot compete for the best debutant category. After stage nine, the first mountain stage, Fignon was in second place, behind Pascal Simon, and he was allowed to be team leader. In the tenth stage, Simon crashed and broke his shoulder blade. Simon continued, and only lost little time the next stages. In the fifteenth stage, a mountain time trial, Fignon was able to win back so much time that he was within one minute of Simon. In the seventeenth stage, Simon had to give up, and Fignon became the new leader. In the next stages, Fignon was able to answer all attacks from his opponents, and he even won the time trial in the 21st stage. At 22 years old, Fignon was the youngest man to win the Tour since 1933.
Fignon later said that he was lucky to have won the 1983 Tour: if Hinault had been present Fignon would have helped him, as Hinault was the team leader.
With his round glasses and air of debonnaire, Fignon was a contrast to Hinault's hard-knocks image. He earned the nickname "The Professor", not only because of these glasses, but also because he was one of the few cyclists who had passed his baccalaureat exams.
1984: second Tour victory
In 1984, Hinault changed to the new La Vie Claire team, established by the French entrepreneur Bernard Tapie and directed by Swiss trainer Paul Koechli. Fignon stayed with the Renault team, and became team leader. In the 1984 Giro d'Italia, Fignon was in leading position near the end of the race, with Italian Francesco Moser in second place. The highest mountain stage, where Fignon could have extended his lead as the better climber, was cancelled by race organizers "due to bad weather". In one of the more outrageous actions of a major tour, on the final stage, an individual time trial, camera helicopters flew in front of Fignon, creating a headwind, and behind Moser, creating a tailwind. Though Fignon repeatedly shook his fists at the obstructing aircraft, they refused to move off. Moser ended up gaining enough time to tke the overall race lead, with Fignon being moved back to second place. He later said the experience made him tougher, and prepared him for the hardships to come.
The 1984 Tour de France was a battle between Fignon and his former team captain Hinault. Hinault won the prologue, but Fignon won back time when his team won the team time trial in stage three. After a large escape in the fifth stage, Fignon's team mate Vincent Barteau was leading the race. In the seventh stage, Fignon won the time trial, beating Hinault by 49 seconds. Barteau was still leading the race, and remained the leader after the Pyrenées.
In the sixteenth stage, Fignon again beat Hinault in a time trial, this time winning 33 seconds. In the seventeenth stage, Hinault attacked five times on the penultimate climb, but every time Fignon was able to get back. Then, Fignon left Hinault behind, and won almost three more minutes on Hinault. Barteau was so far behind in this stage, that Fignon became the new leader. Fignon won three more stages, for a total of five that year, and won the Tour with a ten minute margin. With his air of indifference in interviews and his crushing dominance, he was hailed as France's newest superstar.
1985 and 1986: injury years
Coming into the 1985 season Fignon felt stronger than ever, but a knee injury caused him to miss the 1985 Tour. The following season his team was taken on by a new sponsor, and became the Système U cycling team. In 1986 Fignon won La Flèche Wallonne and he entered the 1986 Tour de France, but placed poorly in the first individual time trial and retired on stage 12 to Pau.
1987 and 1988: return to the top
Fignon returned to near his full strengths in 1987, when he finished third in the 1987 Vuelta a España, behind Luis Herrera. After his retirement, Fignon wrote in his biography that Herrera's team manager bribed his team not to attack, which Herrera later denied. Later that year, he finished 7th overall in the 1987 Tour de France, taking another victory at La Plagne (stage 21). In 1988, Fignon won Milan–Sanremo, but had to abandon the 1988 Tour.
1989: losing by 8 seconds
In 1989, Fignon overtook Sean Kelly as leader of the UCI Road World Rankings. That season included a win at Milan – San Remo and the Giro d'Italia. In the 1989 Tour de France, 1988 winner Pedro Delgado was the big favourite, with Fignon, Stephen Roche, and Erik Breukink listed together as top contenders. After Delgado inexplicably was nearly three minutes late for the start of the prologue time trial, the race was open to all contenders, and ended up a battle between Greg LeMond and Fignon. LeMond won a minute in the time trial in stage five, using aerobars which enabled a new and more aerodynamic riding position (also known as tri-bars as they had previously only been used in triathlons), a new type of teardrop-shaped aerodynamic helmet in the time trials and a rear disc wheel, Fignon used normal road handlebars and a bicycle with both front and rear disc wheels, which left him more affected by cross winds. LeMond led the general classification after that stage by 5 seconds. In the tenth stage, Fignon beat LeMond by 12 seconds, and became the new leader, 7 seconds ahead of LeMond. In the time trial of stage 15, LeMond again won time on Fignon, and took back the leading position. Fignon came back by dropping Lemond on Alpe d'Huez, taking back the lead, and after he won alone at Villard-de-Lans the next day, the margin was 50 seconds. Before the final stage, a short time trial of 24.5 km, the time difference between LeMond and Fignon was 50 seconds, a seemingly insurmountable amount. To win, LeMond would have to take two seconds a kilometer on one of the fastest time trialists in the Tour. French newspapers prepared special editions, with Fignon's picture on the front page, in preparation for his victory. Although it was considered unlikely that LeMond would be able to win back 50 seconds on the 24.5 km, LeMond gave his best, and rode the fastest time trial to date. Fignon had developed saddle sores in stage 19, which gave him pain and made it impossible to sleep in the night before the time trial. Fignon, who rode after LeMond, lost 58 seconds during the stage. Fignon rode a very fast time trial, and came in third for the stage, but still ended up losing the overall lead to LeMond. It was suggested afterwards that if Fignon had cut off his ponytail, the reduction in drag might have been sufficient for him to have won the Tour.
During that Tour, he was on bad terms with the journalists. He often refused to smile for photographs, and at one point spat into the lens of a cameraman who asked for an interview. For his efforts the press awarded Fignon the "Prix Citron", a prize the press awarded to whom they thought the least likable rider. The loss of the 1989 Tour was a heavy burden for Fignon. When given the question "Aren't you the guy who lost the Tour by 8 seconds?", the proud Frenchman would answer "No monsieur, I am the man who won it twice."
1990–1993: later years
Fignon withdrew from the 1990 Tour, but finished 6th in 1991. Following this Fignon moved over to the Italian Gatorade team to act as co-captain and advisor to promising young talent Gianni Bugno. After a dramatic 1992 Giro d'Italia, in which he was in heavy crisis during mountain stages. In 1992 he rode his last Tour, finishing 23rd overall. The race saw an angered Fignon take his ninth stage win, holding off a series of attacks by Guimard's Castorama team before winning at Mulhouse during stage 11. Fignon's last victory as professional cyclist was in the early-season Ruta Mexico in 1993, after a tight duel with Francisco Villalobos and surviving a massive collision that saw the group hit by a tow truck driven by a drunken man. Fignon retired as a professional cyclist late 1993.
In 1995, Fignon founded the "Laurent Fignon organisation", to organize races, notably Paris–Nice, from 2000 until it was taken over by Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the organiser of Tour de France, in 2002. Fignon remained an organiser for races such as Paris–Corrèze.
In response to assertions that French riders were less successful over recent years do to the tight doping controls that French riders are subject to, Fignon responded frankly: "The sports directors don't do a good job any more. They lack competence and don't have authority over their riders. The non-results of French teams are not only the consequences of doping."
On his relationships with Cyrille Guimard and Bernard Hinault, Fignon said that with Bernard Hinault, Guimard already found a champion, whereas with himself, Guimard made a champion. Therefore his bond with Guimard was stronger than Hinault's bond with Guimard.
Fignon wrote an autobiography entitled Nous étions jeunes et insouciants ("We were young and carefree"), which was released in June 2009.
In June 2009, Fignon revealed that he was undergoing chemotherapy for metastatic cancer. He noted that early in his career he had dabbled with recreational drugs, amphetamines and cortisone, but did not believe they played a role in his illness. Ampetamine use during the criterium portion (late summer/early fall) of the cycling season was commonplace in the seventies and eighties. Fignon's cancer was diagnosed in April 2009 after being found in his digestive system.
In January 2010, his doctors discovered that the cancer had originated in his lungs. After a one year battle, Fignon passed away of the disease at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital on 31 August 2010, at 12.30 pm local time. He was 50 years old. Fignon was survived by his wife and both of his parents. He was also survived by his son and daughter from his first marriage.
His funeral took place on 3 September 2010 at Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, where he was later cremated.
Said fellow former champion Greg LeMond:
"It's a really sad day. He had a very, very big talent, much more than anyone recognised. We were teammates, competitors, but also friends. He was a great person, one of the few that I find was really true to himself. He was one of the few riders who I really admired for his honesty and his frankness. We talked about a lot of different things outside of cycling and I was fortunate to really get to know him when my career stopped. I believe he was also one of the generation that was cut short in the early nineties because he was not able to fulfil the rest of his career. But he was a great rider."
His ashes were placed in the columbarium of the Père Lachaise cemetery.
Significant victories by year
- 1982 Renault-Elf-Gitane
- 1st, Critérium National
- 1st, Flèche Azuréene
- 1st, Garancières-en-Beauce
- 1st, GP de Cannes
- 1st, Stage 1 TTT Giro d'Italia
- 1983 Renault-Elf-Gitane
- 1st Overall, Tour de France (and stage 21 win)
- 1st, Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan
- Stage, Tirreno–Adriatico
- Stage, Critérium International
- Stage, Vuelta a España
- 1984 Renault (Gitane)
- 1st Overall, Tour de France (and stage 7, 16, 18, 20 and 22 wins)
- 1st mountains classification, 2nd Overall, Giro d'Italia (and stage 20 win)
- French National Road Race Championships
- 1986 Système U (Gitane)
- 1st, La Flèche Wallonne
- Stage, Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
- 1987 Système U (Gitane)
- Two stages, Paris–Nice
- 3rd Overall, Vuelta a España (and stage)
- 7th Overall, Tour de France (and stage 21 win)
- 1988 Système U (Gitane)
- 1st, Milan – San Remo
- Stage, Critérium International
- 1st, Paris–Camembert
- 1989 Super U (Raleigh)
- 1st Overall, Giro d'Italia (and stage 20 win)
- 1st, Milan – San Remo
- 2nd Overall, Tour de France ( Combativity award and stage 18 win)
- 1st Overall, Ronde van Nederland
- 1st, Grand Prix des Nations
- 1st, Trofeo Baracchi (with Thierry Marie)
- 1990 Castorama (Raleigh)
- 1st, Critérium International
- 1991 Castorama (Raleigh)
- 6th Overall, Tour de France
- 1992 Gatorade (Bianchi)
- 23rd Overall, Tour de France (and stage 11 win)
- 1993 Gatorade (Bianchi)
- 1st Overall, Ruta Mexico
Grand Tours overall classification results timeline
WD = Withdrew