Nicknamed ‘The Professor’ because of his round glasses, because he had (unusually for a professional cyclist) passed his baccalaureat and, perhaps most of all, because he diffidently refused to play the often childish game of cycling fame, Laurent Fignon is my all-time-favourite winner of the Tour.
It was one pleasure to watch his energetic and aggressive riding, a second pleasure to get caught up in the drama that seemed to follow him like a shadow, and yet a third to enjoy his pithy comments, angry when he was angry, ecstatic when he was ecstatic, but often entertainingly intelligent, honest and to the point.
Fignon won the Tour against depleted opposition in 1983, completely dominated a highly competitive field in 1984 and then, after years of injury and frustration, returned in 1989 only to dramatically lose by 8 seconds to the saccharine sweet, goody-two-shoes, Greg Lemond and his evil aerobars.
The story of the derailleurs that Laurent Fignon used is slightly confusing. Cyrille Guimard’s Renault-Elf team had won the Tour with Bernard Hinault riding Gitane bikes equipped with Campagnolo gears in 1978, 1979, 1981 and 1982. But, in 1983, Laurent Fignon appears to have been riding for Renault-Elf on a Gitane equipped with Simplex gears. Normal Campagnolo service then resumed in 1984.
This rather fine photo, from the 1989 Paris-Roubaix, captures a quintessential Laurent Fignon moment - encompassing mud, toil, suffering, melodrama and a pony-tail.
It is the second of two documents on this site, the other is here.