Defining Moments: 1990 Luz Ardiden

Defining Moments: 1990 Luz Ardiden

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There are several moments in my childhood when I realized the bike held a more meaningful place in my life than the other fancies and desires one experiences growing up; those instants that somehow stand out from the others in the endless stream of memories that hold greater significant than the rest.

One such moment was when I realized that my first bike, a Seventies-era Raleigh 531, had a brakeset that didn’t look like those on the modern bikes I saw in magazines – the break cables sprung up from the brake levers and weren’t hidden neatly away under the handlebar tape. Unable to tolerate this condition, I saved my pennies and, when I had enough money, was off to County Cycles to buy a pair of aero brake levers and a few rolls of Benotto handlebar tape. I still remember the clerk’s name, and exactly where in the shop the bar-tape was stowed.

Another such defining moment was the first time I watched an uphill finish of the Tour de France live on television. I remember watching the stage and the palpable excitement of watching a race unfold that is only possible if you don’t already know the outcome. It left a particularly big impression because live cycling coverage wasn’t available in the US; I was in Europe visiting family and aside from the various perks of being back in The Motherland, there was sun-up to sun-down coverage of a race I had only ever read about before.

I think the aesthetics of the 1990 Tour will for ever be my favorite, for the irrational yet unavoidable reason that the images from that race are more vividly implanted in my mind than any other.  Early in the stage, Claudio Chiappucci, wearing the Yellow Jersey, took off over the Aspin and the Tourmalet, causing confusion for the racers behind, who no doubt were trying to decide if it was a brilliant move or an insane one.  A chase was organized and, on a descent where he reached speeds of 108 km/h using his (totally rad) Scott Drop-In bars in an insane shoulders-over-the-bars tuck, the defending champion Greg LeMond caught the Maillot Jaune in the town of Luz Saint Sauveur, at the bottom of the climb to Luz Ardiden.

I remember an aerial shot where Chiappucci was leading the group, when Fabio Para launched an attack on the right-hand side of the road.  Almost as if he predicted it, LeMond reacted in perfect unison with the move and followed him up the road.  Marino Lajaretta followed, and soon everyone else in the group moved across to follow. Everyone except Claudio Chiappucci.

LeMond took control of the race.  He piled on the pressure, hands on the tops, shoulders rocking as his gray and yellow Brancale shoes dished out helping after helping of The V as rider after rider dropped off the back. Eventually, only Indurain remained on his wheel, his fluid pedaling style the antithesis to LeMond’s gear-mashing madness.

It remains for me perhaps the coolest finale I’ve yet seen.  If I was pressed to name my favorite race, I would probably list of about two dozen scenarios in a stream-of-consciousness list and never make up my mind, but any time I see a photo from the climb to Luz Ardiden in 1990, there’s something that connects to it more strongly than any other race (with the possible exception of when we were at the roadside of the Tour for the first time.)

By 1990, I had unceremoniously dumped the 531 (anyone familiar with the term “regret”?), and my current steed was a black Cannonwhale white paint splatters and hot-pink decals, the first bike I had purchased with my own money.  Upone my return home from Europe, I bought a pair of Drop-Ins for my cherished steed.  I also immediately purchased rolls of white tape, a San Marco Regal saddle, and adorned the bars with the black and yellow Scott stickers that looked so cool on LeMond’s bike.  I also stopped pedaling above 60 rpm, and made a study of rocking my shoulders in LeMond’s style.

Looking at this photo now, I see so many things I like, and so many things that are different from today’s race scene.  The C-Record group with my favorite brakeset ever, the Delta’s.  Also present are their accompanying white hoods of my favorite-ever brakelevers.  The way their rubber hoods were a bit loose and the levers protruded from them is, for my money, the classiest look in cycling.  Full-zip jerseys were an innovation at the time, and the fit was much looser (and cooler) than in modern jerseys.  Overall, less emphasis was placed on maximum speed and minimum weight; while those things were important, they weren’t sacrificed for comfort and aesthetics.

Another thing I’m reminded of is LeMond’s total disregard for symmetry.  One of the cornerstones of my aesthetic sensibility is the notion that things ought to be centered and balanced; a yin for every yang, and everything in it’s place.  LeMond, it seems, had no such inclination.  His cycle computer is not centered.  The Scott stickers on the Drop-Ins are not aligned.  The tape doesn’t wrap the brake cables the same way on both sides of the bars, and on the right, they even burst out of the tape like a broken bone.  The laces of his shoes are sticking out from underneath their velcro enclosures. These are things I simply can’t tolerate on a training ride, let alone on Race Day.

Apparently, I was impressionable in my young age, but not that impressionable.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=702mu0o3xXY&feature=related[/youtube]

A bigger version of the main photo post is available here.

// Defining Moments // Folklore // Nostalgia

  1. Frank, great post. Even without watching the video, the photo says it all – Big Mig riding tempo and just wearing down allcomers. This was the start of my worship of all things Mig. Although a three week race, Wide World of Sports here in Australia extended the coverage over four to five and its mixture of American cliché, little did we know early Phil Liggett’isms and a background soundtrack by John Tesh made the race somewhat theatrically dramatic. A sample at: http://torosvecchi.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/july-i-know-where-i%e2%80%99d-rather-be/

  2. Dude – great post. That era is my favorite as well – those bikes just look right. The steel frames, the aero brake levers, Campy Record brakes – all of it. A very interesting time equipment wise.

    It was also pre-helmet and for many, pre-sunglasses era, so you can see the riders better. I always dug LeMond’s style on the bike. Very powerful rider, low RPM, awesome to watch – similar to Jan.

    Anyway, cool post – thanks.

  3. @ frank Nice nice… you’ve captured that stage and all its nuances beautifully. The evidence of the lack of EPO (or its infancy) is demonstrated in Para’s ‘attack'; it looks almost in slow motion compared to the following years, when riders would just explode away. That was more just an upping of the tempo. And Elvis was just laying it on thick, shelling em one by one, and in the rainbow bands. What a rider.

    *Check out the dude eat tarmac at about 3:50…

  4. This is why you’re my cycling sensei, articles like this.
    The look, oh the look. Horizontal top tubes, traditional frame fit, and geometry showing only a few cm of seatpost. Gone are the days of this aesthete in the peloton with compact frames and angled seatposts. All in the name of “progress” or all in the name of “marketing” but I really dig that look. And that WC jersey with the black shorts, looser fitting, simple, very understated by today’s fashion standards. Makes me proud to be a Minnesotan. Vive Greg LeMan.

  5. Speaking of Raleigh’s – an old LBS boss of mine (who was the #1 Raleigh dealer in the country at one time) has a Record C equipped Raleigh Prestige with about 10 miles on it hanging in his (heated) garage.

  6. I bought a pair of Specialized’s version of the Drop-In bars off the back of Lemond that year.

  7. @Mark
    In all the hubbub of the passing of the Great Fignon, I missed the posts here. Nice writing, mate!

  8. @Dan O

    It was also pre-helmet and for many, pre-sunglasses era, so you can see the riders better. I always dug LeMond’s style on the bike. Very powerful rider, low RPM, awesome to watch – similar to Jan.

    You’re saying all the right things…with the helmet regulations, it really changed the look of the sport…been working on a piece on the subject for a while now…

    As for low-rpm, you’re saying all the right things. Der Jan. The coolest.

    LeMan’s Mumbos were the coolest, too. Those shades were TIGHT.

  9. @Brett

    The evidence of the lack of EPO (or its infancy) is demonstrated in Para’s ‘attack'; it looks almost in slow motion compared to the following years, when riders would just explode away. That was more just an upping of the tempo. And Elvis was just laying it on thick, shelling em one by one, and in the rainbow bands. What a rider.

    Yeah, that attack is just so different from what you see these days…not a particularly elegant rider, anyway…but very refreshing.

    As regards EPO, though, it’s interesting to look at the average speeds of that stage in the ’85 and ’86 editions and this one. In the two 80’s climbs, the stage averaged 25 or 26kph. In ’90, I think Miguel’s winning average speed was 39kph. That’s quite a difference in just four years.

  10. @Marko
    Yeah it was cool – especially in winter, when we’d be out skiing, hanging out with this crazy fucker who was out winning the Tour de France. A really mellow, down-to-earth guy with a great smile and a friendly voice. Very cool. Too bad he’s gone off the deep end now…

    @Cyclops
    Pictures and sale price, please. Upload works now…

    @Jarvis
    What bars were those? I was digging around, but didn’t find anything. I didn’t realize they’d made those!

  11. This article saddens me, more so since M Fignon passed away today.

    On this day, in the year T-17 (i.e 17 years before I discovered the pain, suffering and redemption that is road cycling when the prologue came to London in ’07, and I was ‘dragged’ to see the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet in my back yard by a friend who had flown over from NY with his own velomihottie to follow this thing… but I digress), I was celebrating the end of my exams by mountain biking with some buddies in a small town called Bareges in the back-of-beyond southern france high up in the pyrenees. On this particular day, we were pissed, as we couldn’t get a ride out of town to the decent paths because ‘some cycle race’ was coming through town, the roads were closed, and the guides were not available (no kidding). I remember we sulked in a local bar all day, bitching about the bloody french, drinking beers. It was only when the crowds outside started going wild that we stepped outside to see these madmen tearing down through the town having just crossed the Tourmalet from La Mongie at ridiculous speeds (we missed the leader, but caught a) the chase down, which must have been Lemond, and b) the rest of the peloton later). Mad, we thought. What was really extreme was the support vehicles screaming along behind them a toute vitesse (French for ‘at full gas’, I think) covered front to back in bikes tied on and wobbling about violently, threatening to decapitate – but never quite doing it – the spectators crowding the routes literally millimetres from these barely-in-control vehicles hurtling under power of gravity first, engines second, humans third… we walked down through town after the leaders came through, and at the hairpin at the bottom of Bareges, one of the support vehicles had just missed the turn and rolled off the road it was going too fast… the spectators were lifting it out of the ditch and back on the road, the driver screaming ‘Vite! vite! vite!…. merci, merci, merci’ before bombing off again, the smell of burnt clutch, brakes etc. hanging in the air…. in my halting french (basically, not much more than ‘Deux grands bieres et un croque monsieur, s’il vous plait’) I asked what the hell was going on… the guy I was speaking too just pointed down and across the valley to a small town I later learned was called Luz Ardiden… ‘C’est le Tour! Il finit la!’ (or close too… apologies to any native french speakers reading). Sometime over the next few days we actually rode our mountain bikes on some of the Luz pistes, and the road on the way up to the resort was amazing… covered in paint… the names, the cocks, the drawings… all that passion, juvenility and history emblazoned on the tarmac for that climb.

    I don’t regret much in life, but I do regret coming to cycling so late… I was fucking there! At that moment, and in that town!.. and I pissed away the opportunity to get the most out of this stage, this event… we could have got up an hour earlier, and sat in a bar on the other side of the valley and watched that legendary ascent. If only I knew what the bloody Tour de France was…

    Great photo, great article…. particularly Lemond’s lack of symmetry! Love it.

  12. @Brett Fignon noticed that EPO use started ramping up around 1991-93, until it was obvious that everyone was doing it. In his mind, the combination of EPO + the paradoxical shortening of many race courses in the classics, tours, etc changed the way races were “raced” dramatically…Suddenly, even on his good days, he noticed that formerly mediocre riders were setting down unrealistically fast paces that he couldn’t keep up with.

  13. As a newcomer to the racing scene, these videos and photos are really incredible and inspiring. Lemond looks completely out-of-control on the bike, more like he is trying to tear himself free from his torture device than riding a race. I love the bobbing shoulders. A favorite of mine is to ride west in the morning so the sun sits behind you, and you can see your shoulders bobbing to-and-fro as you pedal circles in the wind.

  14. @frank
    Nice article. It’s another of those stand out moments in my memory. Lemond attacking, riding everyone bar Indurain off his wheel and just catching and dropping everyone and all the while in the rainbow stripes. Despite the fact he didn’t win a stage of that Tour, this was an iconic moment, pure class and worth more than a stage win. Indurain may have won the stage, but Lemond rode with panache and Fignon would have approved of that.

    Lemonds Mumbos, like his Razor Blades the year before looked like they were custom-made for his face.

    The bars? Now that is one thing I can’t remember. I just know they were Specialized. I only ever saw one other person with drop-in style bars back then. It was one of the few times I bowed to US style leaders and quite liked them, even if it was only because no-one else had them. Possibly, I was just a twat.

    And everyone wanted a Lemond paint scheme*, so many around.

    *Would have had one if I could have.

    @Marko
    I loathed the compact frame when it first appeared, but these days I think aethestically, the sloping top tube is far superior.

  15. Oakley Mumbos. Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.

  16. Just decided against bidding on a pair of Razor Blades on Ebay

  17. @roadslave
    That’s not a sad story. That’s a tale of a lost soul who has now found the light.

  18. @KitCarson

    Suddenly, even on his good days, he noticed that formerly mediocre riders were setting down unrealistically fast paces that he couldn’t keep up with.

    That, right there, is the cruelty of EPO/Blood doping. When everyone’s doing something or using the same shit, that’s one thing. But when mid-range cyclists start dropping the big champions, that’s when it really stops being something you can turn the other cheek to.

  19. @Collin

    A favorite of mine is to ride west in the morning so the sun sits behind you, and you can see your shoulders bobbing to-and-fro as you pedal circles in the wind.

    Ah…the call of a Velominatus! Choosing one’s route carefully with consideration of the position of the sun such that we are able to admire ourselves via our own shadow. Jens Voigt used to do this, until he dropped his shadow.

  20. @Marcus,

    @Jarvis

    Oakley Mumbos. Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.

    Okay, Marcus-Wan Kenobi.

    I found two pair in my basement the other day. Black. For sale.

  21. @Jarvis

    It was one of the few times I bowed to US style leaders and quite liked them, even if it was only because no-one else had them.

    For good reason. LeMond looked fucking cool. That’s why.

    I loathed the compact frame when it first appeared, but these days I think aethestically, the sloping top tube is far superior.

    Me too. But now I’m so used to it, when I look at my steel with the traditional geometry, it looks like it has a sloping top tube as well. Sloping DOWN.

  22. @frank:

    Ah…the call of a Velominatus! Choosing one’s route carefully with consideration of the position of the sun such that we are able to admire ourselves via our own shadow. Jens Voigt used to do this, until he dropped his shadow.

    My dinner just came out through nose I’m laughing so hard. Great one.

  23. It’s a pity LeMond ended up such a dickhead.

  24. @Tug
    explain how Lemond is a dickhead?

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