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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Before there was the hero Lance Armstrong, there was the hero Greg LeMond. LeMond, with his muscled style, his bon-vivant party-all-night, ride-the-Alps all-day fervor, with his three Tour de France victories back in the late ‘80's, brought a passion for cycling to America and brought respect for an American cyclist to Europe. He was the first American to win the prestigious Tour. He was the first to win it on an American-made bicycle.

LeMond was adored in the French country towns that dotted his Tour de France routes. He was affable, spoke a wonderfully colorful French, and openly threw his gregarious personality down the Champs Elysees. LeMond was a magnet for popularity. After his first Tour win, 1986, he was shot in a hunting accident, sprayed with 60 shotgun pellets. To survive and come back from what could have been a fatal event to win two more Tours catapulted him up onto a pedestal as legend.

It was just about this time that a young Texan was mountain-biking and then road-biking his way up the ladder of elite cycling. He was so talented that he was often called the next American prodigy, the next Greg LeMond. He wasn't so affable, wasn't so endearing. His name was Lance Armstrong. The likeable, easy-going LeMond and the brash, arrogant Armstrong were like oil and water. From the early days, there was never a warm, fuzzy bond between the two.

A decade later, the young Texan came into his prime and not only filled the LeMond shoes as top-dog American cyclist, he proved himself the greatest cyclist in history. Not only did his record of seven back-to-back Tour de France victories far surpass LeMond's, but his personal survival story made Greg's gun shot wounds pale in comparison. When Armstrong climbed out of that cancer bed, beating unfathomable odds and multiple lesions throughout his body, and then won the toughest endurance event in the world, he pretty much eradicated the memory of the once-adored Greg LeMond.

The crisis of performance enhancing drugs climaxed at about the time Armstrong was finishing his run of Tour victories. And even he was not above suspicion. A French lab, a book published in France, a few other riders accused Armstrong of doping but he was tested vigorously throughout his career and never failed. Three years after Armstrong's retirement, one lone voice continues to insist he was a cheater. The insistence persists from America's first cycling hero, Greg LeMond.

 

You knew that it was not going to bode well for LeMond, claiming Armstrong was a fraud to anyone who would listen. He has no proof positive yet he can't help but continue to declare that Armstrong used performance drugs for all his Tour wins. You knew that the classy thing for LeMond to do was to bite his lip and let others ferret out the truth about Armstrong, should there be a truth to ferret out.

Well, now the LeMond hero status has not only faded because of the dominating Armstrong story. It is plummeting because of his continued accusations. Just last week, his longtime sponsor Trek severed all ties with the once-demi-God. The president of Trek, John Burke, says they simply can't stand by and witness LeMond's public vitriol against Armstrong, another Trek athlete, any longer.

I loved watching Greg LeMond race. I got to know him on a two-week ride the length of Vietnam for a documentary film. He was incredibly generous of spirit with all of us. I mount my LeMond bike, the Victoire, with a touch of reverence. It pains me to see him dropped by Trek. I wish his inner circle would help him see that trashing the beloved cancer survivor Lance Armstrong can be nothing but a losing proposition.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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