Laurent Fignon: 1960 – 2010

Laurent Fignon in the 1989 Tour de France, the closest in history.

Laurent Fignon passed away today at the age of 50, after suffering from cancer for several years. Fignon was an amazing rider, and a true all-rounder. He won year-round, in stage races, time trials, and one-day classics. His victories include wins in the Giro as well as the Tour, and classics like La Fleche and San Remo. He also recently published a book, “We Were Young and Carefree”. I find it more than a little bit ironic that I finally purchased that book last night.

Fignon holds a special place in cycling as the man who twice won Le Tour, and once lost it by the narrowest margin in the race's history. That particular race also holds a special place in my own history with the sport, as this was the first Tour that I was aware of, not to mention that it was won by Greg LeMond – an American and a guy I knew from the local ski racing circuit. As the battle waged on and we followed the race in the newspapers, Fignon's name held a prominent place as the guy who would likely win the race, given the lead he held going into the last Time Trial. Given this early introduction, his name has been with me for almost my entire cycling life.

Fignon also holds another special place in my heart. In 2003, my Velomihottie and I went to France for the month of July to sit in a Gite in Aspet, France for a month, ride, and watch the Tour. Tour coverage there is predictably comprehensive, starting early in the morning and continuing on well into the night. Fignon was the host of one of the pre-race shows, called “Se Fignon le Dit”, or, “What Fignon Says” (or something to that effect, I'm not very good at French).

It was awesome. He sported an absolutely terrible haircut and ugly little round sunglasses. Prior to each show, he and his cameraman would engage in a little artsy introduction where the camera would zoom in and out and move about from side to side to create a bit of a disorienting effect. Fignon apparently didn't quite understand that the camera could zoom in and out without moving closer to him physically, so he would peck his head fore and aft, trying the manually create the zoom effect. What resulted was the camera zooming in and out while Le Professeur also moved in and out, creating fishbowl effect that made him look like an Emo trying to poke it's head through a gate.

With that, I speak on behalf of everyone here at the Velominati to send our condolences to his wife, Valerie, and the rest of the cycling community. Today, we lost an icon of our sport. Rest in Peace, Professeur.

Update: photos from L'Equipe.

[dmalbum path=”/ Galleries/[email protected]/Fignon Retrospective/”/]

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34 Replies to “Laurent Fignon: 1960 – 2010”

  1. Well said. I recall watching my first Tour on TV, knowing next to nothing about cycling, and seeing this blond, ponytailed Frenchman (in spectacles, if I remember correctly), and instantly becoming attached to him. Here was a rider, I thought.

  2. Fignon was a great rider; but he was also not made nor ready for life under the lime light. He suffered tremendously in his relation with the media and his death, discrete and unannounced, was the last tell tale of who he was really, a humble champion.

    Great resources here for the French reader:

    “I love life. I adore to laugh, travel, to read, eat well, just like a good Frenchman. I am not afraid of dying, it’s just I am not ready to die.” (Fignon, Jan. 2010)

  3. His legacy permeates the rich canvas of what I know to be cycling and that’s having become a road cyclist and follower of the sport after Fignon’s career as a racer was over. I image the peloton rides through Spain today with heavy hearts.

  4. What a great champion… His TdF win in ’84 over The Badger stands out for me, along with his epic battle with LeMan in ’89. Truly an icon. Godspeed.

  5. @all
    Here’s his palmares, as well (thanks @festinagirl)

    He really was one of the favorites. I remember a stage in the Tour later in his career, when he was riding for Gatorade, and he was so happy to have won the stage that day…he was so terribly tired in the interview, and so damn happy. That’s the kind of thing I love to see…this guy was just all about the spirit. And the stories about the attack he made on LeMan in the ’89 Tour on the stage to l’Alpe, where they were just all completely shot, but he was told LeMond was suffering, so he just dished out some more of The V, and brought it home.

    And his humor on Se Fignon le Dit was beyond all. It was 50% great racing insight, and 50% slap-stick comedy with him making jokes and falling off his chair.

    A class act, and while we didn’t see him much here in the US, I am really sad that he’s not with us anymore.

  6. Holy Shit – I woke up at 1 in the morning last night (I never do that) and felt compelled to finish his autobiography, which I had been reading all week, We Were Young and Carefree.

    This is a total shock. He really was an amazing champion who embodied everything we respect and admire. I think anyone who reads his book will come away moved and with a new understanding and respect for him – he is truly a Great.

  7. @Steampunk
    Yeah, me too. My sister totally had a crush on him. I bought a jersey that looked like his System U jersey. There was a picture of him in a magazine where he was changing position from the hoods to the tops, and in the photo he had one hand on the hoods, one on the tops.

    I rode around like that for about a season before I realized that he didn’t always ride like that. It was hard to go back to riding like a normal person.


    I’m with you on that. There’s a great article in Rouleur, Issue 13 written by Robert Millar about the stage to l’Alpe that year (’84), where the Badger and Le Professeur are attacking each other, and everyone one is on the rivet, over and over and over again. AWESOME.

    What a great quote. What a great way to live life.

  8. @frank Yeah, it was really bizarre to finish it in the middle of the night and then log on to Velominati this morning and discover that he had just passed away…

  9. Thanks for putting the DM Album up. It seems where ever there’s a pic of Fignon, LeMan, The Badger, and BigMig are usually in there somewhere too.

  10. @wvcycling, @Marko
    Picture 8 has to be the Poggio, don’t you think? For his win of MSR. That is just classic hardman, right there. Climbing in the big ring, hairnet, rain and grit.

    We’ve commented before that the GT riders these days are not hardmen in the true sense of the word. Fignon, on the other hand, certainly was. What a stud.

  11. @frank
    Well written and presented, as usual, Frank. Thanks for the great photo file. Yes, what a stud.

    He really was one of the favorites. I remember a stage in the Tour later in his career, when he was riding for Gatorade, and he was so happy to have won the stage that day…he was so terribly tired in the interview, and so damn happy

    I’m glad you mentioned that race because it was burned into my brain as well, breaking away solo, climbing his brains out, winning a Tour stage well ahead of anyone else. At least that’s how I remember it. It’s a sad day for cycling.

  12. looks like Poggio to me.

    Its a sad day, for we have lost a great legend of our sport. He really was all things cycling, on the bike and off the bike, he was.

    My first memory was as a boy, in the hot summer of july, w/poor tv reception and no air conditioning, I knew the TdF was going to be on saturday, ABC if i am not mistaken. So I watched, and it was the final TT, an American totally destroyed it, looking so strong. The announcers were going crazy and beside themselves as Fignon was evidently not going to cut the time needed, then he passed through and fell to the ground. It captured me then, and forever, and part of it was the way that Fignon handled himself as a true champion symbolically handing the laurels off to a new generation.

  13. As I wrote in June

    My first “proper” road bike was a 1990 Raleigh Delta, 531 with 1051 throughout. I’d wanted the Quadra, as it was in the team colours, but that was out of my reach

    I started writing this post, googled Raleigh Quadra, found my own post that I’d forgotten about and realised I had written it identically, word-for-word the same.


    Anyway, I missed Fignon’s Tour wins, I got into cycling at the ’84 Tour but can’t remember much other than Millar in the polka-dot jersey. I still think that ’89 is the greatest of all time and probably will remain so.

    Possibly the classiest champion of recent times

  14. Wow, just woke up to read of this sad news.

    A fitting tribute Frank, well done. And great tributes from the Velominati community, nice one guys.

    My main memory of Laurent, too, was that ride in his twilight in Le Tour, not quite good enough to still challenge for the overall, but digging in for a solo escape and stage win in maybe 92? His ponytail flapping in the wind, glasses perched on his nose, back as flat as a tack, driving it to his last moment of Tour glory. Pure class.

    RIP Laurent.

  15. R.I.P Fignon. Checking out at 50 years old is way to young (I’ll be 50 next year – yikes).

    As with many cycling fans, I was glued to the ’89 Tour and it wound up being Fignon’s “claim to fame” – losing by 8 seconds – at least in the U.S.

    Of course, his career was much greater then that. Interesting to read all the tributes and past stories about him now. A sad ending to a storied career.

    Ride now, while you can….

  16. @Marko
    LeMonds are wide, too, in the previous post. I prefer the narrow bars, like in the olden days, but you can’t deny how cool both those guys looked with those wider bars. Perhaps the influence of Guimard, who coached both those guys? I also just LOVE LOVE LOVE the look of that bar tape. Someone please check my head.

    @Dan O
    Nicely put. It’s sad how all the nice stories come out after someone passes away. Same with Pantani. I was planning a retrospective on him, and I have several others in the hopper. Better get to ’em while I can.

  17. @frank
    Fignon’s Benotto bar tape? I found a late supply of this and was still running it in ’97.

    Fignon seems to have narrower bars in the picture where he’s being followed by Hinault. They look better in proportion than in the Super U photo. I think there was a move towards everyone having 44’s in the late 80’s early 90’s, better to open up your chest. Boardman bucked this trend by going for 42’s as they were more aerodynamic.

  18. I also recently read Fignon’s book “We were young and carefree”, and am shocked and saddened at this news. Thanks for a great article and fantastic photos.

  19. Fignon was a class act; a big rider with a brain and a clinical sense of analysis. Even late in his life he was true to Rule #5, showing up on France 2 every day and dissecting the race, which even landed him in some trouble this July after he made another of his honest analyses.

    I believe he raced for the first time aged 16; and won. In his 3rd amateur season he just win 50% of his races and aged 19 attracted Guiamrd’s attention. 7 years into his cycling life, aged 23, he won his first TdF. he got a science baccalaureat and even started university but gave up to start his por career. Some say the nickname also came form this background and his intellect; not only his glasses.

    Another quote he spoke in Stade2 last years and which I love reads: “Ž”[…] quand on a bien vecu, [mourir] c’est moins grave.” (Fignon, Jun 2009)

    Roughly translated it reads: “When one has had a good life, dying is less of an issue.” We’ve lost a great character and a great cyclist.

  20. PS Let us not forget in our obsession for these 8 seconds that Fignon rode, I think!, the then third fastest TT in cycling history, in spite of a significant discomfort. It was epic. The media focussed on the loss but forgot what it took & forgot the palmares Fignon had. This may have made him bitter; as probably did the more outspoken & respected Hinault.

  21. @all,

    This Week’s In Memoriam gave Fignon the first slot in the In Memoriam piece they do each week. I was very glad to see they gave him such an honor. It’s a big deal to have a non-American cyclist recognized in the States.

    I’ll try to get a version edited with just the piece on Fignon, but for now, this will do.

  22. Wow, I can’t believe its been a year already. A sad day for cycling indeed.

  23. Despite the headline here, didn’t realized until yesterday that he was only 50. Very sad, tons of life & contributions to the cycling world still remained for him.

  24. Vale Laurent:
    He was definitely one of my favorite riders. I loved how versatile he was and how like Hinault he would be racing FTW year round.
    Odd how as I was reading this article i noticed this image;

    Strange how the year of his passing was following him on the moto as he was laying down the V.

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