Six Days of the Worlds – Chambery, France 1989

Six Days of the Worlds – Chambery, France 1989

by / / 27 posts

You don’t want to see the green Irish national jersey of Sean Kelly in your rear view mirror when you are sprinting for the line in the World Championships. Greg Lemond led out this sprint extremely early as he was afraid if Kelly took off he would never catch him. Lemond barely gets an arm up in victory salute it’s so hard and fast. It’s a long, long power sprint from the front and he only knew he had earned his second rainbow jersey when he crossed the line.

Greg Lemond truly earned what must have been his greatest one day victory. His first World Championship title was monumental, it sent a shock wave reverberating around the world, and was the opening salvo for American cyclists racing and actually beating the best.  And this victory was after he had been shot with a shotgun!  He had to chase down Laurent Fignon, face the tactical disadvantage of Fignon having Claveyrolat as a teammate in the final and having to beat Sean Kelly in a sprint! It is testament to Lemond being a complete cyclist; the brains, the power and the heart.

Back when it took place only weeks after the Tour de France, the World Championship road race was the most prestigious one-day race of the year.  It sat squarely in the middle of the racing season.  There was no hiding from it.  Everyone who raced in the Tour was praying their form who hold, or if they rode badly in the Tour they could claim to be peaking in a few weeks (instead of two months).  If riders were not selected for the Tour they would kill themselves to do well enough in other June and July races to be selected for the Worlds.

The 1989 Worlds road race course was too many laps of an exhausting circuit in Chambery, France.  Lemond had won the Tour de France weeks before, overcoming the insurmountable lead of Laurent Fignon on the dramatic final TT stage in Paris.  Greg was not feeling fit and had to be talked into riding at Chambery.  Each lap he wanted to pull off at the pit area and end the suffering, but he didn’t.  Only a true professional would say he started to feel better (or “unblocked”, as Lemond put it) in the last third of a race this gruelling.  With each hilly lap raced Greg was feeling better, and despite the rain and the climbs, he kept finding a reason not to abandon.  This is the fact that stays with me; Greg was ready to drop out of the race as he felt weak (why race if you couldn’t win?) yet he stayed at it, one lap at a time and to his surprise he started to feel better.  Better?  Amazing to think that struggling to stay in the elite main field, on an extremely hilly circuit course like Chambery, that an athlete would start to feel stronger 200 km into it.

By the bell lap the small break (Steven Rooks: NDL, Dmtri Konyshev: USSR and Thierry Claveyrolat: FRA) was staying away and the decimated  field was not going to catch them.  The French team captain Fignon ripped off the front of the field, quickly bridging up towards a countryman in the break.  He must have taken note of Lemond suffering throughout the day.  This was Fignon’s revenge.

As Fignon was closing in on the break he turned and to his horror saw the once-struggling Lemond next to him. If Laurent had dared to even dream of a victory that day, a victory that would help to redeem his crushing loss in the Tour, this was the last man he wanted to see bridge up and join him in the break.  But once they joined the break Laurent had a teammate and the tactical advantage went his way.  The video tells the rest of the story.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJSgzHTRg38&list=QL[/youtube]

// Nostalgia // Racing // Six Days Of // The Hardmen

  1. I hate that YouTube is blocked at my work.

  2. 1989 was the year as far as I’m concerned.

    I was lucky enough to spend the summer that year in France, and whilst not in Paris, I will never forget watching the final TT live on tele. I’d returned home by the WC’s and couldn’t wait to get the Comic that week for the results and the write up. I have no idea how long I spent looking at the pictures in there of the race, and later Winning when that came out (Winning, I still maintain, was the ultimate in bike porn…).

    The same YouTube clip was the first time I’d seen actual footage of the race, nearly 20 years after. I’ve got it stored and every now and again let it transport me back to my golden era cycling.

    I really wish the Worlds would get moved back to it’s proper place in the calendar, but that’s another thing all together.

  3. @Cyclops
    What kind of cruel dungeon do you labor in?? That is unheard of and inhuman. Sure people don’t waste as much time when it’s blocked but damn it, I didn’t include a you tube video in this post for simple amusement, I did it be informative.

  4. @Unica
    I was so sure Fignon was going to win the TdF in ’89 I didn’t even bother to watch the final TT, even Lemond wasn’t going to make up that. Luckily I went to a friends house and he did have it on so I did get to see it all play out. Whew.

    Can you imagine watching the Worlds in person? That would be worth a long drive to have seen all those racers in their national kits, especially if it ended like that ’89 race.

    Winning Magazine, I’d nearly forgotten about that rag. I must have subscribed as I am a helpless bike porn addict myself. But I can’t remember…the addicts brain, riddled with holes like a drilled out chainring.

  5. There are about a thousand cool things about that video. Poor Steve Bauer…man, that guy could not get his luck together in the Worlds, could he?

    For my money, I loved that they wore their trade team bibs with the National jerseys…and back then, the US team jersey was a classy looking bit.

    Konyshev was another of my all-time favorites.

    And Kelly…the man was the last rider to switch from toe-clips, and then SWITCHED BACK. What a stud. Of course, I think he might have switched from toe-clips to the Shimano SPD, which was the worst-ever clipless pedal, so you can’t blame him for that one…

  6. This is one of the best World Championships of all time. Lemond really had it here. I remember racing against him when he entered Pro/1 races as junior and I was Cat 1. The only one to beat him was John Howard.

  7. @frank
    I think Robert Millar was using toe-clips after Kelly. But check out Lemond’s shoes. Some sort of bastardised Time Equipes, with a toe-strap between the two velcro straps. I have a theory they were prototype Brancale shoes (like wot he wore in the ’90 tour) that basically ripped-off the Time platform. The theory is probably as watertight as the one about Kelly selling this race by braking so he didn’t outsprint Lemond.

    Konyshev, the only pro who couldn’t be bothered to shave his legs or wash his bike, or train for that matter.

    This was probably the best Worlds. Now here’s a thought. Was ’89 the best year for professional cycling ever? If so, then Lemond sits central to that theory

  8. This was a masterful piece of riding by Lemond. The youtube video starts with Fignon on attack. I remember when Fignon made his move on this final climb, before the start of the video. When he jumped and past Lemond, Lemond did not flinch. Lemond waited to make his move at the perfect time to chase down Fignon and the leaders, before the top of the climb. He was amazing that day. I believe this was the only time he beat Kelly in a sprint. This was his third World Championship.

  9. @Jarvis
    I was trying to figure out Lemond’s shoe-pedal combo. That toe strap does confuse me. Is he using clipless pedals with a toe strap somehow?

  10. @john

    You don’t want to see the green Irish national jersey of Sean Kelly in your rear view mirror when you are sprinting for the line in the World Championships.

    I love how Kelly spontaneously materializes at the back of the lead group. You can almost sense the “Oh fuck!” from the other riders. Thinking back, he seemed to do that a lot: just magically show up with the leaders at the right time. Milan-San Remo 1992 comes to mind. A big “Oh fuck” moment for Argentin.

  11. @Jim Morehouse
    “This is one of the best World Championships of all time”
    Yeah, it really was a knife fight. You could see that once Kelly arrived everyone but Lemond tried their hand before the finish. Greg kept chasing them down, really showing how strong he was.

    I remember when Lemond was a junior and he was really making trouble in your ranks, he may have beaten George Mount in some Nor Cal hill climb and it made everyone think, “jesus, the kid is a junior still, he’s going to kill everyone” and he did.

  12. @Steampunk
    That 1992 Milan-San Remo would be a worthy video to study. You are so right, Kelly catching Argentin on the descent(!!) and laying some hurt on him. Mmmmmm, that’s a man.

    Maybe he caught the break on the descent here too? He does just appear out of the rainy mist. yeah, “oh Fuck” in four languages. If Cavendish ever learns these skills he will also depress any break he ever catches up with.

  13. beautiful race…all the way. Fignon digs and comes back, Lemond digs, frank is right, Steve Bauer may have really had the day of his life if it were not for bad luck. Kelly is a stud all the way, but I must say that this race he looked more human.

    I love the way they reached down and shifted, flawlessly.
    Note the pace too, on steel, downtube shifters, some w/clips…and they are still rolling down @90kph and the sprint was forever!!

    Great article and great reminder of Lemonds best one day effort!

  14. @john
    Not to drift off topic, but Milan-San Remo 1992. Not a bad salute at the end, either…

    You’re right, though, about Cavendish. There’s nobody really of Kelly’s ilk in the peloton these days (go figure). But even the tougher all-rounders, like Boonen or Hushovd or Pozzatto, are impressive in how they can hang with the climbers in order to contest the sprint finish (when they have to be favorites), but I can’t see any of them making up the kind of ground that Kelly did in bridging at Chambery or at Milan-San Remo. Maybe Gilbert?

  15. @Jarvis, @john
    I bought some Time shoes right after the ’89 Tour and the first thing I did was chuck some toes straps around them to look like LeMond. The look of the straps sticking out like that was hypnotic.

    I’d be interested to hear more of the “Brancale” theory; his ’90 shoes were really cool, and I did notice that the shoes he has here had laces – which the Times, I believe, did not. There are plenty of little hints like those in that point to them not having been time shoes. The Velcro straps didn’t seem quite right, and the neither did the round profile from the front.

    @mauibike

    When he jumped and past Lemond, Lemond did not flinch. Lemond waited to make his move at the perfect time to chase down Fignon and the leaders, before the top of the climb.

    I remember that, too. Amazing. I just read a bit in Fignon’s book that says he noticed that the way Indurain would come back to a break was by waiting until the attacker lowered their speed for to catch their second wind, and at that moment Indurain would bridge up. It seems perhaps that was the same trick LeMond used; just wait until Fignon dropped his speed, and then he bridged.

    Kelly must have used his mad wet-descending skills to catch on. He could not climb like those guys. On the other hand, that also explains why he lost some of his punch in the sprint.

  16. @Steampunk
    Thats one of my favorites. He’s also the only guy ever to make that first rendition of the Festina jersey look good. Sweet lid, too.

  17. @frank
    True dat.

  18. @frank

    I bought some Time shoes right after the ’89 Tour and the first thing I did was chuck some toes straps around them to look like LeMond. The look of the straps sticking out like that was hypnotic.

    I should have known. You have always been insane.

  19. @Steampunk
    magic video. That is so great, I do love Milan-San Remo. Kelly in a helmet? WTF.
    Thanks for putting that up.

  20. @john @frank

    as frank has said, the toe-strap goes around the shoe as an extra strap. I did the same as Frank with my Time shoes, just because of the look. I have no idea if it made any difference at all. I doubt it.

    The “Brancale” theory has sprung from the above picture. Lemond’s ’89 shoes were never proper Time shoes despite the red and white colours, the straps were wrong for a start and there was no branding. Time did branding.

    The straps on the ’89 shoe overhang the side/sole of the shoe a lot, just like the ’90 Brancale shoe did. If you watch the video I’m fairly certain it shows that, although the heel is definitely Time, the shoe has a white sole and by ’89 Time Equipe shoes had black soles. As Frank says, there is also something odd about the toe-box, not round enough, maybe? So I’m sticking to my proto Brancale Theory. Quite possibly the ’89 shoes were Brancale shoes made to look like Time shoes for sponsorship purposes? Either way, the ’90 Brancale were gash. It was the ’90s for fucks sake, what was with the laces and the massive tongue? Add to that their helmets and it’s no wonder Brancale aren’t around any more,

  21. @john

    Kelly in a helmet? WTF.

    It’s funny how those things really come about. The guys who seemed to have an image so indelibly bound to their helmetless appearance seemed to be just fucking awful at picking out a helmet. I mean, here, check out Kelly’s lid choice:

    My God. You could go for a stroll in a forest and randomly pick up large mushrooms until you found one that fit on your noggin and end up with a better looking lid that that. If you couldn’t find a mushroom, you could resort to rotten logs and still end up ahead.

    Pantani had the same problem. No helmet, he exuded cool. With a helmet, he seemed awkward.

  22. john :

    @Unica
    I was so sure Fignon was going to win the TdF in ’89 I didn’t even bother to watch the final TT, even Lemond wasn’t going to make up that. Luckily I went to a friends house and he did have it on so I did get to see it all play out. Whew.

    Can you imagine watching the Worlds in person? That would be worth a long drive to have seen all those racers in their national kits, especially if it ended like that ’89 race.

    Winning Magazine, I’d nearly forgotten about that rag. I must have subscribed as I am a helpless bike porn addict myself. But I can’t remember…the addicts brain, riddled with holes like a drilled out chainring.

    I remember that I raced that Sunday (some small race somewhere in New England, think I was still a “civilian” racer then) and when I got home my Dad yelled out to me, even before I had reached the house, that Lemond had won. One of those truly and honestly magical moments in my life that I will never forget: Coming home still sweaty from placing somewhere MOP in a civlian race, junior in high school, expected that my hero had lost after all (still with the image of him not being able to follow Fignon on the earlier mountain stage) and then finding out that he had won. Man, time stopped for me.

  23. mauibike :

    This was a masterful piece of riding by Lemond. The youtube video starts with Fignon on attack. I remember when Fignon made his move on this final climb, before the start of the video. When he jumped and past Lemond, Lemond did not flinch. Lemond waited to make his move at the perfect time to chase down Fignon and the leaders, before the top of the climb. He was amazing that day. I believe this was the only time he beat Kelly in a sprint. This was his third World Championship.

    @mauibike

    I seem to remember that the French Team were royally PISSED with Fignon for chasing down Claveyrolat one the last lap. Man, that finishing photo has to be the GREATEST cycling photo ever and has always been my favorite. I have shown it to my kids too many times to define what it is like to lay it all out and go for broke. The true “winners” photo! HARD F’ING CORE!!!

  24. I saw my first TDF in 1957 in Colmar, France and many stages and other major cycle races since. Highlights – Roche on La Plagne in 1987 (I’m on the video!) and Chambery in 1989. What a day, even though Kelly failed again, as in 1982 at Goodwood, where Lemond had also been involved in the final phase.

    My wife and I, on a cycletouring holiday in the Pyrenees, left the bikes at Tarbes railway station, trained to Geneve to see my brother, trained to Chambery, camped at Aix les Bains for 2 nights, hired 2 bikes from the campsite to watch the Saturdays amateurs and womens races, hitched to Chambery for the Pro race, watched the race on the climb, celebrated the day with a great meal before catching the sleeper back to Tarbes, collected the bikes, rode to Tarbes airport to catch a return Lourdes pilgrim flight back to Manchester (England) and home by train.

    Those were the days – sadly racing is too controlled today and we shall never see again those magical breaks of my youth.

  25. @mauibike

    That “toestrap” is just a re-inforcing strap. Back in those days, the shoes weren’t engineered to resist that unrestraining upward pulling caused by the use of clipless pedals. Over time, the shoes uppers would separate from the soles. Many riders wore velcro straps over the whole shoe (upper-and-lower sole).

    I had a pair myself. They were sold by the mail-order bike gear suppliers at the time…

  26. @frank

    @john

    Kelly in a helmet? WTF.

    It’s funny how those things really come about. The guys who seemed to have an image so indelibly bound to their helmetless appearance seemed to be just fucking awful at picking out a helmet. I mean, here, check out Kelly’s lid choice:

    My God. You could go for a stroll in a forest and randomly pick up large mushrooms until you found one that fit on your noggin and end up with a better looking lid that that. If you couldn’t find a mushroom, you could resort to rotten logs and still end up ahead.

    Pantani had the same problem. No helmet, he exuded cool. With a helmet, he seemed awkward.

    Kelly looks happy as he can see the big wad o’ cash Brancale are waving at him.

  27. Funny thing about Lemond’s equipment in this beautiful sprint finish–he’s NOT riding with toeclips (as your caption states). The prominent toe straps are tight around his Time shoes, which are attached to Time clipless pedals, as in many photos from Lemond’s 1989 season. Why toe straps on clipless pedals? I assume because Lemond didn’t like the amount of flex or stretch in his shoes. Those toe straps would eliminate any up-and-down foot motion in the shoe. Cool, that for all of Lemond’s cutting edge technology and experimentation with equipment, he goes back to the simplest leather strap and steel buckle system of the toe strap, for a World Championship. (Same pedal/shoe/strap arrangement he used in time trials that year.) But this is all trivia compared to the motor powering that bike. The last 10 minutes of that race show so clearly who the most powerful (and persistent) cyclist in the world was.

Leave a Reply