Anatomy of a Photo: 1986 Milan-San Remo

Lemond and Beccia are caught by a terrifying Kelly on the Poggio. Photo: Cor Vos

It’s a classic tactic. The day’s break is caught and before anyone has time to decide what to do about it, you counter-attack. Already tired from chasing the break, maybe – just maybe – the suckers you tricked into pulling for you will let you get away.

That was Beccia’s plan in the 1986 Milan-San Remo. He attacked right as the break was caught on the Poggio and Greg LeMond – America’s greatest-ever cyclist – went with him. The Poggio’s big-ring gradient must have suited LeMond’s powerful style perfectly and riding with the weaker Beccia, he must have felt almost assured of notching what would be the first American win in a monument.

A quick check over the shoulder to make sure no man is bridging up. Sure enough; no man is coming, but that doesn’t mean you’re not being overtaken. That’s Sean Kelly – half man, half bear, and half pig – doing his best to crack his bottom bracket on his one-race-per-frame Vitus.

That’s three big rings and three hard men, but only one has managed to scare the mud off his forehead. Spoiler alert: the finish line photo shows Kelly with spotlessly clean face.

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83 Replies to “Anatomy of a Photo: 1986 Milan-San Remo”

  1. “Greg LeMond – America’s greatest-ever cyclist…”

    Nice.  I believe I’ll start using that one, too.

  2. Errr, Frank. The “Finish Line” photo that appears if you click on “1986 Milan San Remo” shows a picture from 1992 when Kelly was riding for Festina and won M-SR after catching Argentin on the descent of the Poggio. It was a much less dirty race than 86 hence the clean face.

  3. Man, that is a great photo. Seeing Kelly coming up, that must be the worst sight, even for Lemond. This one must have been taken thirty seconds later, assuming Sean just f’ing steamed past the two of them.

  4. @wiscot

    Errr, Frank. The “Finish Line” photo that appears if you click on “1986 Milan San Remo” shows a picture from 1992 when Kelly was riding for Festina and won M-SR after catching Argentin on the descent of the Poggio. It was a much less dirty race than 86 hence the clean face.

    Its the correct result, I can’t really control what picture milansanremo.co.uk puts on there now, can I? The link is for the race, and has nothing to do with the joke. But since it allowed you to miss the point, I have removed the link before it happens to more people.

  5. Boy, I’d hate to look back and see Kelly bearing down on me. Soul crushing.

  6. @RedRanger

    @Cinghiale

    “Greg LeMond – America’s greatest-ever cyclist…”

    Nice.  I believe I’ll start using that one, too.

    cause it’s the truth.

    And definitely one of the nicest. Just think – the COTHO could have been that guy, but the dope’s made him a humongous arsehole.

  7. Man, I love the fact that GC men like LeMond and Fignon went out to win MSR in the ’80s.  Probably a lot of the reason I’d love to see Nibali pull off a win there.

    @scaler911

    Boy, I’d hate to look back and see Kelly bearing down on me. Soul crushing.

    Just ask Moreno Argentin (this is the 1992 San Remo finale @wiscot refers to).  It’s well worth watching the whole thing but the answer to your question starts unfolding at about 6:00 in.

  8. @Gianni

    Man, that is a great photo. Seeing Kelly coming up, that must be the worst sight, even for Lemond. This one must have been taken thirty seconds later, assuming Sean just f’ing steamed past the two of them.

    Yeah, love this pic. LeMond looking at his legs and demanding more power and coming up with . . . zilch.

    You know, I don’t know if it’s climate chance or what, but races are so much cleaner these days – in the non-doping sense that is. I think they’re cleaner in the doping sense too.

  9. @Nate

    Man, I love the fact that GC men like LeMond and Fignon went out to win MSR in the ’80s.  Probably a lot of the reason I’d love to see Nibali pull off a win there.

    Totally. LeMond was going on to win the Tour that year. For a guy who reputedly invented specializing on the Tour (which he didn’t, Anquetil did), that’s a pretty diverse set of races to be awesome at.

    Here’s Fignon in ’88

    And here he is for a back-to-back win in ’89

  10. Bit of trivia relevant here. One of the mos notable things about the Kelly pic is his stupendous hair. Mario Beccia was very jealous of such hirsute men. Consequently he took care of his balding pate with one of the worst rugs ever worn by a professional athlete. Wouldn’t a proper cycling cap have been easier and more dignified?

  11. He must have gotten some practice wearing the ol’ cap, though – as his style seems pretty spot on.

  12. @frank

    @wiscot

    Oh, wow. I had no idea.

    Yeah, in his racing days it was a bit “fluffier” than that one. Nice that one can change “hairstyles” so easily. As always, your interwebs picture sourcing skillz make my point wonderfully. I wonder if the hair thing was as a result of him being what’s called in Scotland, a “wee man.” Little big of compensation for being vertically challenged, non?

  13. Sean Kelly is about as hard as they come, but I have never cared for LeMond.  You may not like him, but it’s hard to argue that Armstrong (Lance, not Kristin) is America’s best all-time cyclist.  There, I said it, let the thrashing begin ; )

  14. @RedRanger

    @Cinghiale

    “Greg LeMond – America’s greatest-ever cyclist…”

    Nice.  I believe I’ll start using that one, too.

    cause it’s the truth.

    YES!!!  Could not agree more!

    Pays to check the site at least once a day to see such awesomeness posted.

  15. @scaler911

    Boy, I’d hate to look back and see Kelly bearing down on me. Soul crushing.

    This. Name one other rider who would have instilled such fear? Take the anatomy of a photo theme even further: the race is already over. The winner is inevitable.

  16. @Anjin-san

    Sean Kelly is about as hard as they come, but I have never cared for LeMond.  You may not like him, but it’s hard to argue that Armstrong (Lance, not Kristin) is America’s best all-time cyclist.  There, I said it, let the thrashing begin ; )

    Finally someone bit, it’s about time.

    Pharmy isn’t the best not because of his obvious doping to get to the top, but because he was a one-trick pony. Pre-Cancer, it was only classics. Post-Cancer, it was only the Tour with the exception of Liege to test his form. Not to mention that he was standing on the shoulders of giants in terms of infrastructure and a precedent of American cyclists in Europe.

    Not only was LeMond a pioneer in Europe, but were it not for his hunting accident, he’d have 5 if not 6 or 7 Tour wins to his name as well, along with podiums or wins in races on both ends of the calendar. He was second both in MSR and Lombardy (both to Kelly, incidentally).

    And that’s even before we start talking about what an incredibly nice guy LeMond was. Having known him personally and spent more than a few hours hanging out and skiing with him, he was absolutely genuinely friendly. And fucking hard as nails. And – we know now that LeMond was right all along when he went all douchey about drugs in cycling.

  17. @frank Wrong. Far from a “one-trick pony” before cancer Armstrong was convinced he could improve on his 36th (32nd?) place on GC in the Tour to maybe one day take a tilt at the podium. He won small stage races like Tour Dupont and came close to winning Paris-Nice. He was the first American to win a classic when he won Fleche-Wallone, and he came second in Amstel a couple of times. He raced from the start of the season until the end. I’m not disputing your LeMond statements, as I agree he was a legend, but you’re being a bit revisionist about LA’s place in the scheme of things.

  18. I’m too ignorant of technology to link a video, so bear with me while I go old school and cut/paste…

    My favorite “I’m going to chase you down, then lead from the front, then sprint from the front, win, and you can do fuck all about it” moment is Hinault’s victory at Paris-Roubaix in 1981.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdjP4TFwDEc  He crashes.  Then he catches.  Then he goes to the front to let everyone know he’s caught back on.  Then, when he enters the velodrome, he overpowers the likes of RDV, Moser, Van Calster, Demeyer, and Kuiper.  Just beats them in a drag race.  Like redheaded step-children.  No jockeying for position.  Opens a 2liter can of whoop-ass.  The announcer shits himself.  It’s AWESOME.

  19. @Gianni

    Man, that is a great photo. Seeing Kelly coming up, that must be the worst sight, even for Lemond. This one must have been taken thirty seconds later, assuming Sean just f’ing steamed past the two of them.

    Dat accent.

  20. @all

    These Lance vs. Lemond arguments are just like James vs. Jordan. A waste of time. Both were greats and have done amazing things for their sport. We should be grateful for both of them, at least the non-Europeans here, as they helped raise cycling’s profile outside of Europe. Lance won the tour more, and has done great things for cancer awareness. Lemond was slightly more diverse, and is a nice guy. Both have overcome difficulties in their lives to reach the peak of their sport. Everytime someone here tries to put one below the other it’s very disheartening. I would think we could manage to be happy with both and move on. Both Armstrong and Lemond deserve our respect, and I am dissapointed whenever either one of the two gets put down here, and I think we all know at least one of them gets more then their fair share thanks to all the anti-lance trolling that takes place. You don’t have to love them, just respect them.

  21. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I think this is how I did it:  In YouTube, click “Share” then “Embed.”  Copy the code.  Come over here, click “HTML” and paste in the code.

  22. @King Clydesdale

    No, no-one is obligated to have to respect anyone. That’s like saying, “that Jeffrey Dahmer sure killed a lot of people in horrible ways, but boy he raised awereness of serial killing, and for that I respect him.”

    What’s to respect about a lying, cheating, sociopath bully-boy who’s made millions by being a fraud and championing a terrible disease to smokescreen what an asshole he is? Is that the type of person that should earn respect?

  23. @Nate Merci!  I’d have never gotten close to figuring that out.  Not too sure what HTML means.  Hot meal?  Hate mail?  Hail To My Loins?

    @xyxax
    Really?  My high school French just doesn’t cut it.  Doing the math, that means that, at around the very time he dropped out of the TdF in 1980, he was, well, you know, practicing his husbandly duties.

  24. @Nate

    @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Now that I’ve actually watched it:  WOW.  Haven’t seen that one before.  Talk about la course en tete.  And against some bad, bad men.

    I know!  It’s not just what he does, or how he does it.  It’s in the context of taking on the giants of P-R.  RDV even had Kuiper there to drive the train.  And Hinault still hammered ’em.  Wow.  One of my all-time favorite videos.

  25. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Not to mention the fact that he did it in the bands. So badass Hinault himself could lay claim to being the best American cyclist of all time and nobody would dare argue the point with him.  And all the black shorts in that video are enough to make me get down and pray at the altar of Merckx.

    Some days, when I feel like I’m going really well, I imagine myself instead of LeMan in that pic that @RedRanger posted. Then I realize what a Choadstool I am and that I’m only going 23kph.

  26. Just got to love Kelly.

    Here’s a pic we got at last year’s Cat & Fiddle ride in Stoke. He’s still laying down the V today…

    Martin, Sean Kelly & Andy

     

  27. Great photo. Beccia this look on his face of “I’m not game to look back! Fuck I hope that’s not who I think it is, ’cause if it is, I’m fucked!”

  28. @il ciclista medio

    Yep. And Lemond looks beaten, too. I know it’s a still photo, but it looks as though he’s already started freewheeling, having accepted defeat…

    Must be an Irish thing. My son was born in the Coombe, and he’s been dishing out the pain on the local MTB ride.

  29. @Steampunk

    This. Name one other rider who would have instilled such fear? Take the anatomy of a photo theme even further: the race is already over. The winner is inevitable.

    +1 there are only a handful of the greats that would creat that “oh shit” moment where you know your done, no matter what you try. Kelly is at the top of the list with Merckxs and Hinault.

    @Frank, it’s too bad Major Taylor did not race in the modern era… He overcame more racesist B.S., obviously was not “doping” and remained a gentleman.

    I too hung out with Greg but found him to be a bit big headed, not in a bad way for a nineteen year old already a star. As I think about it maybe the feeling was he was spoiled. Not that he did not work nor have his heart in it, he did but that it all came a little too easy. Compare him to the Euros and how they came up and their attitudes of working and being hard in life before being hard on the bike just to scrap out a place in a training race so that you might get noticed… Greg had it easy. Just saying that is not bad but the attitude did not impress …

    As for Armstrong never met the man and have such mixed feelings about his Palmeres and methods of training. Leaving aside pharmacology he was too mechanical and driven with out the humanity of Merckx who was also the same in his training. The difference is that Merckx risked failure and Armstrong never did…

  30. @Rob

    I too hung out with Greg but found him to be a bit big headed, not in a bad way for a nineteen year old already a star. As I think about it maybe the feeling was he was spoiled. Not that he did not work nor have his heart in it, he did but that it all came a little too easy. Compare him to the Euros and how they came up and their attitudes of working and being hard in life before being hard on the bike just to scrap out a place in a training race so that you might get noticed… Greg had it easy. Just saying that is not bad but the attitude did not impress …

    Interesting perspective. A former student of mine who works at my local café talked about racing with Taylor Phinney a few years ago, and how””similar situation””already an imminent star as a teenager, he was impressed with his big personality. The aura around him. I think he was impressed with his abilities, but less enamoured of his character””having to deal with already being the next big thing.

    @Rob

    +1 there are only a handful of the greats that would creat that “oh shit” moment where you know your done, no matter what you try. Kelly is at the top of the list with Merckxs and Hinault.

    Kelly’s also notoriously different than a number of the greats insofar as he is less famous for his long breakaways (Coppi, Merckx, et al.), but rather for this kind of comeback. My other great favourite of this period was Fignon, but his style involved being part of the initial break. You get the impression for most of the contenders in Kelly’s two MSR wins, he’s the only one who had the mental fortitude to claw back the distance lost, where most would have been inclined to sit up. Interesting that Kelly is one of the very few riders who gets a lot of praise from Fignon in his autobiography.

  31. @Oli

    @frank Wrong. Far from a “one-trick pony” before cancer Armstrong was convinced he could improve on his 36th (32nd?) place on GC in the Tour to maybe one day take a tilt at the podium. He won small stage races like Tour Dupont and came close to winning Paris-Nice. He was the first American to win a classic when he won Fleche-Wallone, and he came second in Amstel a couple of times. He raced from the start of the season until the end. I’m not disputing your LeMond statements, as I agree he was a legend, but you’re being a bit revisionist about LA’s place in the scheme of things.

    Having aspirations to improve on a 36th place is a long shot from being a contender in the Tour pre-cancer. And La Fleche is a classic, but its no monument. He did win DuPont (awesome race, by the way, wish that was still around) but that and Paris-Nice are both a far cry from a grand tour.

    I’ll give you that calling him a classics-specialist is unfair in light of those races, but he was no all-rounder like LeMond winning the Tour and getting second in MSR during the same season. Its a completely different class of races.

  32. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I’m too ignorant of technology to link a video, so bear with me while I go old school and cut/paste…

    My favorite “I’m going to chase you down, then lead from the front, then sprint from the front, win, and you can do fuck all about it” moment is Hinault’s victory at Paris-Roubaix in 1981.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdjP4TFwDEc  He crashes.  Then he catches.  Then he goes to the front to let everyone know he’s caught back on.  Then, when he enters the velodrome, he overpowers the likes of RDV, Moser, Van Calster, Demeyer, and Kuiper.  Just beats them in a drag race.  Like redheaded step-children.  No jockeying for position.  Opens a 2liter can of whoop-ass.  The announcer shits himself.  It’s AWESOME.

    Possibly the best finish ever, especially with him in the bands. Incredible. Bretto actually circulated that video around the KT attendees pre-departure to remind us how to ride if something goes awry on KT.

  33. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    @Nate How?  I used to do it under the old program, but I’m lost now.

    Its the same as always. Just past the “embed” code from YouTube. Or, if you past the link, the link will convert it when you click on it.

  34. @King Clydesdale

    Saying one athlete  is better than another is hardly being disrespectful, mate. Pointless, sure. Fun, absolutely. Disrespectful? We have different definitions of what that means.

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