I first met Greg LeMond in 1996 when he was doing some commentary or something for the Olympic Trials. He was lured to Pittsburgh to star in a bike ride near Settler’s Cabin Park, but the majority of the small group of riders who attended seemed intent on riding fast and hard, and not basking in the opportunity to trade pulls with the athlete who’d been at the top of their sport for a decade. My friend and training partner Tim O’Toole and I were there for the spectacle, which for us was provided not so much by LeMond, but by the local amateur riders who seemed to take pleasure in attacking and trying to drop him! The weather was crappy, the course was hilly, and I don’t think Greg expected to have to finish the ride/race with a 2km climb.
To my genuine surprise, all of the other cyclists but Tim and I had attacked LeMond at the base of the climb and were riding ahead of us. Tim and I hung back with the 3-time Tour winner and at about the half-way point, LeMond grabbed a hold of Tim’s jersey and told him to pull! Now LeMond could have cracked any of these guys earlier, but in the spirit of creating a memorable experience, he let Tim pull him several hundred meters up the hill before attacking and flying over the top of the climb and plummeting down the descent.
The rest of the ride was a blur, since we were close to the cars, it was cold and wet and LeMond displayed more than one turn of speed to get the group home as quickly as possible.
I don’t know why I did it or where I found the courage, but after the ride I walked over to Greg and point-blank asked him if he would trade watches with me – and he didn’t know me from Adam. But we both had Tag Heuer’s, and while mine was from a slightly pricier line (haha! a fact that Greg didn’t hesitate to point out, saying, “Are you sure you want to do this? I think I’ll be getting the better deal here!”), I think I would’ve traded a Rolex for a Timex if it has been his, because LeModn was – and still is – The Man. Twice Champion of the World, Thrice winner of the Tour de France…a career such as his doesn’t need chronicling here. With grace, if not a bit of surprise though, Greg agreed and we traded watches. And I still have LeMond’s slightly-battered Tag Heuer in my watch collection, which now includes that Rolex, an IWC, Baume&Mercier and more than a few Tag’s…none of which have the sentimental value of the watch I traded for with the greatest US cyclist of all time.
I was fortunate to meet Greg several more times after that first ride, and am happy that he and I have worked together recently in the pursuit of clean sport. I am tired, though, of the LeMond-bashing that followed a speech Greg gave earlier this month, which is posted at playthegame.org… The fact that LeMond DOESN’T have a slick PR machine behind him is all the more reason to give credence to the value and truth conveyed by his words. It’s when someone needs to “stay on message” and dress up their speech with extreme makeovers performed by media consultants and handlers that you should be very suspect of the veracity of their defense or counter-claims.