Megève Mont Blanc
2013. I have my ticket for this year’s “L’Etape du Tour”, an event where 10 to 15 thousand amateur cyclists try to ride a Tour de France stage, with a twist : this is the only cyclist event in France where the roads are 100% reserved for the riders. No cars. This is why there are strict limitation rules; past a certain time the road is open and you’re on your own, out of the race. It is not my first attempt. In 2011 I have tried to reach l’Alpe d’Huez past the col du Télégraphe and the Galibier. I was caught by the sweep car with only 4km to go, after 9 hours of suffering, exactly where Greg LeMond was crucified by Laurent Fignon 22 years earlier. That was some humbling (and, quite frankly, humiliating) experience, even more so that I had danced in front of the sweep car for 6km before I was officially out of the race. In the bus taking us up to l’Alpe d’Huez, I decided I would never do that again. Ever.
But in 2012 something changed. Our first meeting with Greg LeMond (read the Terhagen & Breda story) was a huge boost. I had not seen Greg since the last stage of the 1990 Tour de France so meeting him and chatting with him in Breda basically opened a door. Many things that seemed impossible a few months before became “Hey, why the hell not ?”. So, when it was announced that Greg would be the guest of honor at the Time-Megève-Mont Blanc “cyclosportive” in june 2013, I thought two things : 1/ it is perfect for training for l’”Etape du Tour” and 2/We might have a shot at actually RIDE with Greg LeMond. LET’S DO THIS, shall we ?
Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that my fellow Greg LeMond Fans bloggers would not be able to join. So, I began to plan my trip on my own. First I had to train properly and plan progress in my training. I usually ride 3.000 km a year and only once a week, so there’s little room for mistakes. I had also planned 2 trips to the Pyrénées in February and in April to get started with the climbs. Then I purchased a brand new bike frame, my first carbon frame. I went for an affordable/comfortable combo since my budget is limited and my back has always been an issue. I went for a Specialized Roubaix SL4. Finally, I purchased a Garmin Edge 800, knowing I’d have to vary the routes and ride places I’ve never ridden to avoid boredom.
I started using my personal Twitter account and “Preppin’ my ride with @GregLeMond” updates. Back then, we had no GLF blog and Twitter account, just my old www.greglemondfan.com website but these tweets got me some following and I knew Greg would be sensitive to that initiative. He had asked us to keep in touch, so there it was, my way of keeping in touch with him. Sadly, as soon as January 29, Greg got involved in a serious car crash. Fortunately, his injuries were not life threatening but meant he had to wear a brace to sustain his back for 3 months. Megève was now in Jeopardy. I kept going, thinking it would still be a nice ride and piece of training, Greg being the cherry on top of the cake if he ever could make the trip. Anyway, that’s what I was telling myself.
Long story short, June soon arrived with my training ok-ish (April was a disaster with late winter snow) and one Friday evening I arrived at the Megève chalet I had found for the weekend. I had received no confirmation that Greg would be riding, let alone show up. I was starting to believe coming here was a mistake, and an expensive one. Greg would not show up at all, weather forecasts for the Sunday ride were announcing rain and storms. I needed to take some fresh air. As soon as I unpacked, I thought it would be nice to make a city tour to get the vibes of the tiny ski station and reminisce where everything was (I had already ridden the Time-Megève-Mont Blanc in 2010) since I was there anyway.
I casually drove to the city center, hoping to grab some pasta when, out of blue, I came across a weird grey-haired guy wearing some vintage cycling apparatus made out of wool in the middle of the street, arms raised towards the sky. Believe it or not, I had just bumped into no other than Greg “Le Man” LeMond himself ! I could not believe my eyes. I parked right there and got out of the car. Greg instantly recognized me from the year before and shook my hand with a sincere enthusiasm. “What’s with this strange ceremony ?” I asked. It appeared I had just crashed into a fashion-week kind of “defilé” for Team LeMond’s new cycling-wear prototypes. Marcel Tinazzi, former pro rider and head of Italian based cycling clothing company MS Tina had his car trunk full of black and yellow outfits. Greg gave me his phone so that I could take pictures of him wearing the stuff and show it to his family back in the US. Months of tension just vanished in an instant. Soon Greg and his gang went to a dinner party and I was eating pasta on my own with a stupid smile on my face.
Saturday morning I was told Greg was meeting French “L’Equipe” journalist Philippe Brunel for a long interview. Meanwhile, I sat on a bench reading Laurent Fignon’s wife's new book about the champion’s last months on this Earth. Some pictures caught my eyes as I recognized Patrick, long time Greg LeMond friend and PR at Time. Patrick was staying with Greg at the hotel and I showed him the pics. You could tell this very sight moved him. I kept reading.
The atmosphere in Megève was relaxed, the sun was shining and temperature was ideal. There were lots of cyclists passing by and one of them stopped. “Are you waiting for Greg ?” he said, and he was pointing at something on the bench. I didn’t tell you but I was not alone on that bench. I had brought a present my brother gave me just days before : a 1993 steel Gan replica LeMond frame. “Nice”, the unknown cyclist added. We started chatting and he told me his name was Mike and he had a Twitter account : @TheRaceRadio. “Hey, I’m following you”, I said. “I’m @LeMondFans”.
We went to the hotel terrace to drink a few Perriers. We were sipping our bubbles when Greg came out. He was scheduled to shake hands here and there but decided he could have a drink first (He’s friends with Mike too). We talked for a few minutes about Grand Fondos and the state of cycling in the US. Now was my opportunity window. I got out of my bag 2 jerseys, but just not any jerseys. The first one was a long sleeved La Vie Claire jersey. It was special for two things : 1/It had world champion sleeves and 2/It was made out of wool, which is uber-rare for La Vie Claire jerseys. Greg was intrigued. He looked at it. Looked at it again, started to look for specific signs, then he had a smile. “Yeah, this was mine”. He showed me a very faded sign of his initials “GL” inside the jersey. I was stunned. “It’s yours if you want it”, I said. “Naaahh…. You get another one for me”, and he signed it. The other jersey was a race worn 1990 Tour de France jersey with “Z” logo, printed in silk. No initials this time, so it could as well have been Ronan Pensec’s jersey. Nevermind.
Clock was ticking and Greg was set to appear somewhere. He got up, thought for a moment and said “Wait !” and ran back to his hotel room. Seconds later, he was back with 2 brand new Team LeMond cycling kits. “Wear these tomorrow”, he said. I couldn’t believe it. Greg giving us a jersey. The world must have turned upside down without me noticing. In the afternoon, I decided to stretch the legs and give the Team LeMond kit a test ride. After a while I stopped at the race village where Greg was giving autographs. “Not bad, uh ?” I said, proudly showing the prototype kit. Greg was kind of unprepared with the response level he got from the cyclist crowd. Everyone had a story to tell, it seems. He was happily exhausted.
Sunday morning, as we had agreed, we met outside Greg’s hotel for the race start. “I’m totally out of shape”, Greg had warned me. I saw him getting out with a croissant in his mouth, a bit concerned. His cycling shoes were missing (we found them in the car), he didn’t have a helmet (we got a sponsor to give him one), he was late (Er… well… Sorry). I had quickly purchased a tiny camera to put atop my helmet. It wasn’t HD (only 720p) and I didn’t have time to really test it but it would have to do.
The Megève race starts with a 10km descent to the foot of the first climb. We were on the front line. Greg gave me the feeling that he was not racing with the other riders but with the “direction de course” car instead. Full speed. We were riding at 60km/h and the peloton was a bit of a mess. Many riders wanted to get a glimpse of Greg. My main concern was not to, under any circumstance, lead Greg to a crash. I was doing fine until a guy on my left lost his bottle. I saw the orange liquid explode out and its recipient sliding towards my front wheel. I was in trouble. In a split second I opted for the most reasonable behaviour : “Sit still, it will pass” and it did.
Then the road started going up and down for a few hundred meters, and it required quite a lot of energy to keep the pace going. It wasn’t long before we met our fate and the first climb was there. Greg instantly pulled over on the right “I’ve just exploded”, he said. I was on the verge of exploding too, which is not the smart thing to do when just beginning a marathon kind of race. Greg was letting everyone pass by him, many riders were launching kind words to him or just waving. After the first few slopes, Greg stopped for good, staging a flat tire. He was having a laugh “Anyone has a wheel for me ?”. I replied : “I’m the worst teammate ever, I’m not even giving you my wheel !”. Then the long 800 strong peloton saw us take souvenir pictures and selfies with a spectacular mountain backdrop behind us. Greg kind of kept saying how sorry he was for his bad shape, how he felt like letting me down, even slowing me down regarding my race time… Little did he know that I am far from being the competitive kind. My job was done, here. We told each other farewell. Kind of reluctantly, I got back on the saddle and on with the race.
The first climb went smoothly, I was catching quite a few riders and I was still on a high after what I’d just done. The second climb, however, was steeper which does not go too well with my extra pounds. It felt like a punishment. I think the “high” effect was over too, which didn’t help. The last 2km of that climb were done in an eerie fog. The descent was worse as it started pouring a heavy and cold rain. I gently made my way to the finish (Mike passed me, he had done the big circuit while I did the small one). Later that summer, I was able to complete the “Etape du Tour” in good shape, and it meant a lot to me.
Morality : that day changed my life in an unexpected way. Since then I know one thing : do not rule anything out, give yourself chances, cease the opportunities, even if the odds are against you. If I had just woken up one day and decided “I want to ride with Greg LeMond one day”. I would probably have given up, thinking it was impossible. Instead, I started a website. I thought it would be nice to give back to Greg as he had given us so much. It lead me to meet terrific people, eventually Greg himself. Then the Megève opportunity showed up. It wasn’t a sure thing, it cost a lot of money and energy to get there and be prepared. But you know what ? Sometimes everything works out, even better than you’ve anticipated. Not only did I indeed ride with Greg LeMond but what started as a single-person website is now a 3 persons blog/website and we’re improving… We hope you enjoy the ride.