Today marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Laurent Fignon. The two-time Tour de France winner died after a year-long battle with cancer. He was only 50.
Fignon is often remembered for his epic battle with Greg LeMond in the 1989 Tour de France, where he lost the race by just eight seconds. It’s somewhat unfortunate that this race is what he is remembered for by many, instead of the great victories that he had.
Amongst the races that he won during his career include the Giro d’Italia in 1989, two wins in Milan-San Remo, the French Championships and Flèche Wallonne.
He won the 1983 Tour de France in just his second season as a professional and returned the following year where he would battle against his former team captain Bernard Hinault. Fignon had finished second in the Giro d’Italia a few weeks earlier, where he felt that he had been robbed of victory by the Italians, allowing Francesco Moser to take the win instead.
In the final time-trial of the race, a helicopter flew directly in front of Fignon creating a headwind, but behind Moser, creating a tailwind. The Frenchman was more determined than ever to take victory in the Tour.
Hinault took the first yellow jersey of the race when he won the 5-kilometre prologue, but Fignon gained back time when his Renault team won the team time-trial.
They beat Hinault’s La Vie Claire team by 55 seconds. Fignon’s team mate, Vincent Barteau, would then take over yellow jersey after the 5th stage where he had been part of a large breakaway.
Two stages later, Fignon gained more time on Hinault when he won the 67-kilometre time-trial in Le Mans. He won the next time-trial also on Stage 16, gaining another 33 seconds on Hinault.
Hinault was not one for giving up though and made repeated attacks the following day. The stage finished on Alpe d’Huez and the Breton tried to break clear five times on the penultimate climb, the Cote de Laffrey. However, he couldn’t get away from his younger compatriot.
Then Fignon decided to attack, and Hinault had to descend like a madman to try and catch Fignon and the Colombian, Luis Herrera. Hinault caught them on Alpe d’Huez, and the Breton attacked again. Fignon would later say that he thought his attack was laughable and he was easily able to bridge back up to him.
Hinault was then dropped again. The stage victory went to Herrera which was first stage win for a Colombian with Fignon finishing second, gaining more time on Hinault.
The very next day to La Plagne, Fignon took the win and two days later, he won again in Crans Montana. He was making it look so easy.
The penultimate stage was another time-trial, which unsurprisingly, Fignon won. It was his fifth stage win of the race. It was a remarkable performance, with Hinault finishing over ten minutes behind on GC and Greg LeMond a further minute behind.
He was still only 23 when he won the Tour for a second time, but he would never win it again. He suffered with a serious knee injury afterwards and despite those great wins in the following years, he would not get to the same level as he had been at in the 1984 Tour.